Listen to 405 Radio
The Louvin Brothers - Handpicked Songs

The Louvin Brothers - Handpicked Songs

by , 25 November 2011

The Louvin Brothers are a true mix of yin and yang; they manage to be one of the most un-hip groups of all time, while at the same time influencing a whole roster of bands and artists across a wide spectrum of music with their gospel old timey close harmony country music. Their album covers regularly pop up in the ‘worst covers of all time’ lists with their literal takes on heaven and hell and God and Satan (Google ‘Satan Is Real’ for an example). On the flip side there is no cooler name to drop into the conversation in interviews for young country and Alt. country groups today when stating your influences in the country and bluegrass milieu.

Although The Lovins were primarily a gospel duo to simply dismiss them as a bunch of bible bashing hicks would obviously be a grave error as they have produced some of the strongest raw country music that the genre has to offer, and brought the true power of music to both the shakiest of drunks and clean living housewife alike.

Country music is one of those genres that although is part and parcel of the inner fabric of rock and roll is still less appreciated than the cooler Blues and R&B side of the equation. Over the years the rock scene has dipped back into the country bag and with great results i.e. The Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo an album which equals anything in their more psychedelic back catalogue in my opinion. In fact on this Sweeheart album the later line up of the group include a version of The Louvin Brothers penned track ‘The Christian Life’ proving that Ira and Charlie were indeed still appreciated and respected by the rock fraternity within their own lifetime. The main instigator behind this inclusion may have been the newly appointed ‘Byrd’ Gram Parsons who along with Bob Dylan was ignoring the San Francisco summer of love scene and headed out to discover their own down- home roots approach. Dylan in fact had ignored the whole ‘love generation’ and Woodstock ideal and retreated back to his log cabin to record Nashville Skyline, a record that included guests such as Johnny Cash as opposed to his speed influenced ‘thin wild mercury sound’ that had come before.

Gram Parsons especially had been using his knowledge and love of The Louvin Brothers catalogue as well as his country heritage to influence by osmosis The Rolling Stones late 60’s and early 70’s great run of albums. His influence helped pull them in the direction of Bakersfield rather than urban Brooklyn and showed them the music and legacies of George Jones and Merle Haggard. This new shot in the arm was instantly absorbed by the Richards/Jagger song writing team and gave a welcome boost to there usual daily diet of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters which in itself helped add hidden textures and a fresh canvas for the group previously bound by the 12 bar blues formula.

Like all music, the county and bluegrass genre evolved and became more commercial, whereas before it had been a skeletal group of musicians playing in theatres and small churches, it now turned into primetime entertainment. The small groups were now replaced by whole groups of musicians decorated in rhinestones trying to compete with the latest pop music of the day. But long before neon Las Vegas cowboys, and indeed the resurgence of true country music with the Oh Brother Where art thou? resurrection in 2000, there was The Louvin Brothers.

The album here Handpicked Songs is a compilation album who’s tracks have been individually chosen by other artists influenced by Ira and Charlie Louvin’s music including Beck, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Kris Kristofferson, Will Oldham and many more. You won’t find the loner lone wolf Man in Black style of Johnny Cash’s country or indeed the smiles and showbiz style of Dolly Parton version, but what you have instead is music from an almost other time altogether. Tracks like ‘Cash on The Barrelhead’ musically sound like cousins of songs such as ‘Mystery Train’ or ‘That’s Alright Mama’ while keeping the halos firmly in place. While songs such as ‘The Great Atomic Power’ give an almost smirk to the future anti nuclear songs by turning the threat into a warning of the forthcoming Rapture while managing to keep the front row clapping and stomping along throughout. Some songs here are pure gospel and rival devotional offerings against any of the hand waving and fainting soul music you can mention. Songs like ‘I See A Bridge’ and ‘Almost Persuaded’ showing both sides of the coin from purest faith in God to the struggles of doubt that I’m sure everyone from Priest to Rabbi to Buddhist Monk, face throughout their lives every time they look into a mirror.

The story of The Louvin Brothers isn’t all smiles and sunshine and was filled with sadness throughout (Ira struggled with alcohol throughout his career and after the groups breakup was tragically killed in a car crash, a sad irony here was that it was the other drivers fault as opposed to the probable fault of the drunk Ira behind the wheel). With all the drama of a great gothic southern story, this album is a perfect compendium of work left for posterity as a reminder of a time when white lightning was still was the biggest thrill of all.

Get it.

Rating: 7/10

Purchase and listen

Related Reviews

  • Milk & Biscuits - Balcony Times

    Milk & Biscuits - Balcony Times

    by Paul Kerr

    The beauty of music is that there's a sound for any mood. Feeling angry? Put on some old school punk and pogo around the bedroom. Feeling sad? Wallow in some Nick Drake or Jeff Buckley or cheer yourself up with the greatest hits of Madness. Feeling like an outcast? Indulge yourself with the Smiths. [read more]

  • The Big Pink – Future This

    The Big Pink – Future This

    by Toby McCarron

    Two years after their debut A Brief History of Love, The Big Pink have returned to try and conquer the difficult second album syndrome. It seems this time round Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze are taking a slightly different approach to their music, with talk being thrown around of a more hip-hop inspired record centred on samples and drum machines, rather than the explosions of shoegaze guitar and experiments with the power of sheer noise that defined their debut. [read more]

  • Johnny Foreigner - Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything

    Johnny Foreigner - Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything

    by Tom Walters

    I’m going to get straight to the point - the main thing we need to establish here is whether or not Johnny Foreigner have progressed past their mid-2000s, slightly eccentric, exaggerated indie rock niche. [read more]

  • Birdy - Birdy

    Birdy - Birdy

    by Aurora Mitchell

    You really have to applaud Birdy for covering some gargantuan ‘indie’ songs and technically passing them off as her own material. You know what they say, ‘good artists borrow, great artists steal’ and Birdy is a perfect example of this, although I don’t think you could class her as a great artist, not yet. [read more]

Comments

Follow Us

Recommended Posts

Popular Posts

Mailing List

Sign up to our weekly mailing list.

Around The Web