The Louvin Brothers- Satan Is Real/Handpicked Songs 1955-1962   Leave a comment

The Louvin Brothers Satan Is Real/Handpicked Songs 1955-1962 Light in the Attic

(Review based on digital version of the project)

Satan is Real is one of those rare late 50s country albums that has seldom if ever been out of print over the past twenty years. In fact, it has been reissued so frequently- along with and separate from Tragic Songs of Life– that one would be forgiven for dismissing this latest reissue out of hand.

Based on the digital version provided for review, I believe this would be a mistake. While many who appreciate the golden years of country music and the natural but hardly effortless harmonies of Ira and Charlie Louvin specifically quite likely already have at least one version of Satan in Real in their collection, this reimagining of the classic 1959 release appears to be well-worth the investment.

Much has been written about Satan is Real, from its (depending on one’s perspective) frightening or cheesy album art- created by the brothers themselves utilizing a rock quarry, tires, coal oil, and a hand-crafted, 16 foot cut-out of Satan himself- to its selection of carefully chosen songs that spoke to the fire and brimstone version of Christianity the brothers themselves ascribed, to the masterful performances of the Louvins and their studio musicians including Hank Garland, Buddy Harmon, Jr., and Paul Yandell.

The song is chock o’ block with classic performances, songs that went on to influence an entire generation of performers including Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, Emmylou Harris, and Lucinda Williams, to name but a few. “The Christian Life,” “There Is  A Higher Power,” “The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea,” and “Satan’s Crown Jewel”- some Louvin originals, others from Nashville writers- have become country music standards, much more than spiritual or gospel favourites but evidence of the Saturday night-Sunday morning dichotomy that has always existed within the world of commercial country music.

The sound of this issue is especially good; no hiss, no audio flaws are apparent.

The album comes with a companion disc of an additional 14 songs selected by artists of some renown, creating an alternate ‘best of’ that includes some of the duo’s familiar hits- “When I Stop Dreaming,” “Knoxville Girl,” and “Cash on the Barrelhead” to name but three- but which also delves deeper to album cuts such as “I See A Bridge” and “Low and Lonely.” With annotation from the artists who ‘handpicked’ the tracks- among them Kris Kristofferson, Will Oldman, Dolly Parton, and the previously mentioned Hillman, Harris, and Williams- one better comprehends the evidence that the two often troubled siblings had on their industry, both in their manner of singing and in the hits they produced.

The extensive liner notes that accompany the album, which includes late-in-life interviews with Charlie Louvin, who passed away almost a year ago, provide a context to the Satan is Real sessions as well as insight into the tension that existed between the brothers.

Without having the package in hand, I hesitate on commenting too much on what appears- from my research- to be a carefully assembled package including numerous photos and album covers, a comprehensive booklet of notes, and substantial tri-fold housing.

The inclusion of “Are You Afraid to Die” on both discs is puzzling. While one can appreciate the division of the cuts into the two distinctive albums, given the set’s running time of less than 70 minutes, a few dollars could have been saved by issuing the set as a single-disc release or- even better- having additional artists make a song selection to beef up the Handpicked Songs portion of the collection.

As Lucinda Williams writes in her notes, “Losing Charlie means that we have lost one of the last of the founding fathers of honest to god, country music.” Fitting then that Charlie and Ira are provided yet another quality issuance of their music. Who knows how the next generation will be influenced by these sounds.

Thanks, as always, for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald



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