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The Louvin Brothers Satan Is Real/ Handpicked Songs 1955-1962 Review

Compilation. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Two brilliant discs in one recommended package.

David Quantick 2011

The Louvin Brothers – Charlie and Ira – are amongst the most revered figures in Americana, a genre of music so influential that it doesn’t really exist, being a big fat umbrella term for anything from Johnny Cash to Lambchop, from Wilco to The Low Anthem: in short, anything involving old American music, preferably made by people living in wooden shacks while wearing dungarees. As such, it’s as fake as glam rock or anything else despised by people obsessed with authenticity, keeping it real or any of that nonsense. But at its core it does have an impeccable sense of history and good taste (i.e., it’s not all Bon Iver and old copies of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack). Hence the continuing interest in the work of The Louvin Brothers, two brothers whose careers flourished fairly briefly in the 1960s until God-fearing hell-raiser Ira was killed in a car crash in 65.

The Louvins, like their near-peers The Everly Brothers, were a great sibling vocal duo, harmonising almost since the womb; and it’s those two voices, combined with the conviction in their lyrics, which has made this simple yet complex music so powerful. From gospel music, where their sincerity and belief fills every note, to their often more powerful non-religious tunes, in which temptation and death walk hand in terrifying hand, the Louvins’ music has an emotional force that most modern rock bands would kill for.

There are two albums in this brilliant double pack, the first an original and the second a compilation. Satan Is Real has always had a certain camp following for its sleeve, featuring a homemade Devil towering over the brothers. Inside, however, there is little or no comedy as songs like the title-track and The Christian Life (covered by Americana icon Gram Parsons) are packed with sincerity, power and brilliant harmonies. Handpicked, the compilation, features songs chosen by celebrity fans including Beck and Dolly Parton. The selections range from the self-explanatory Almost Persuaded (the sexiest lyric about not committing adultery, ever – picked by Mark Lanegan) to the chilling Knoxville Girl, courtesy of Kris Kristofferson, which renders everything about Nick Cave unnecessary. In summary: two brilliant albums combined.

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