Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Louvin Brothers - Satan Is Real

Walking to the vinyl section of the Record Collector, a strange cover caught my eye.

It was a picture of two men dressed in white, standing on fiery rocks with a very silly looking picture of the devil behind them. Without hesitation, the storeowner gave firm praise for what could be found within the sealed vinyl reissue of The Louvin Brothers Satan Is Real. From that recommendation-along with the sheer awesomeness of the cover you see pictured-I made an impulse purchase.

You don’t have to believe in God to appreciate The Louvin Brothers’ Satan Is Real, but you may find yourself in the midst of the Holy Spirit after listening to it. Ira and Charlie Louvin blend together their glorious harmonies with such beauty that you’ll be sure their gifts do indeed originate from a higher power.

The country arrangements behind them are barren and steady, giving a wide birth for the Louvin’s immaculate vocals to blend over everything on tape. The results are not only magnificent, they can be downright creepy at times.

The title track sets pace for the records’ twelve tracks, and it even includes a bit of Baptist fire and brimstone towards the end with a testimony advising all listeners that, if God is real, then Satan should be considered just as factual.

There is no doubt that Charlie and Ira believe every word they are singing, thanks to an upbringing in Southern Alabama that valued the gospel as much as a hard days work. It’s noted in the extensive liner notes that most of the Louvin clan had gifted voices, but while their younger sisters were married and pregnant by the age of eighteen, only Charlie and Ira took music seriously enough to make it into a career.

Satan Is Real contains “The Christian Life,” probably best known from The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, so if you’re a fan of that record, here’s the indispensible original.

“There’s A Higher Power,” a Louvin brothers original, is also top notch, but the song that nearly brought me to tears is the last cut, “I’m Ready To Go Home.” Ira delivers such a gut-wrenching high harmony on it that you’d have to have a deal with the devil not to be impacted by the song’s beauty.

The story behind the iconic album cover is included, but what’s telling is what the cover implies. If you’ll notice, the cutout of Satan features him holding a pitchfork and the end of that pitchfork is pointed directly at Ira Louvin.

Throughout the years, the brothers were always on the road, to the point where Ira started to drink and become erratic. Charlie was much more stable about the stresses of the road, but could not take much more of his brother’s behavior. He finally agreed that parting was probably the best for both of them, and by the end of 1963 the two had parted ways.

In 1965, Ira-still touring, but with a new band-was killed in a horrific head-on collision on a county road in Missouri. There was an outstanding warrant on him for a drunk driving conviction that he failed to settle. The irony was that the person who caused the accident was also drunk, making the Louvin brothers song “Wreck On The Highway” just a tad too prophetic.

There’s more: the spur of the moment purchase of Satan Is Real comes almost a year to the day after Charlie’s passing from cancer last year.

Clearly, there was not only a knowledgeable record store owner at hand for making this recommendation, but also a higher power that pointed me in the direction of this essential recording.

God is indeed good.

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