The Louvin Brothers were a country duo hailing from Alabama, brothers Charlie and Ira Loudermilk began their career in the late 1940's heavily influenced by gospel music, traditional country and bluegrass music. From 1955 through until 1963 the duo were a permanent fixture on the country charts and were popular members of the Grand Ole Opry. They cut some great singles on MGM and Capitol, their Capitol recordings were their most successful including You're Running Wild, When I Stop Dreaming and the C&W number 1 I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby.
Their most significant recording and probably their most influential was the album Satan Is Real which was released in November 1959. In the words of Bob Dylan this album resonates with stark beauty, for me it's beauty comes equally from it's tortured tone and it's redemptive pursuit. The Louvin Brothers are compelling in their ability to convey the message of belief in a higher power and the pervasiveness of a darker force. The album is uncompromising in it's message, it's a personal and quite moving record. The title track is simply amazing the brothers' voices so impassioned, the opening chorus is followed by a sermon delivered by Ira demanding that we recognise the existence of darker forces. There's A Higher Power is joyful and optimistic, rejoicing in the knowledge of a higher power, A Christian Life celebrates the choice of pious living whilst despairing that others haven't joined the narrators path.
Songs like The Kneeling Drunkards Plea, The Drunkards Doom and Satan's Jeweled Crown set themselves apart from other gospel songs in that they reflected a darkness and a sense of hopelessness whilst also offering a sense of redemption and a way forward through the Christian spirit. I'm not religious I find the album powerful in it's message of hope, that the human spirit can reach low depths but there is always a way forward and I think that sense of hope that dwells in these songs transcends religion.
One of the most interesting aspects of the album is the album cover, designed by Ira Louvin it features a 12 foot plywood rendition of the devil, the brothers are surrounded by rocks and apparently hidden tyres that have been soaked in kerosene and set on fire. I heard somewhere I think it may have been on Bob Dylans' Theme Time Radio show that it started to rain and the kerosene soaked rocks started to explode! The influence of the album spread into the mainstream in the late 60's when The Byrds covered The Christian Life for their Sweetheart of the Rodeo album in 1968. Another interesting side fact is that Ira and Charlie's cousin was famed Nashville songwriter John D Loudermilk.