Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Louvin Brothers

  • Tragic Songs of Life [Capitol, 1996] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Tragic Songs of Life [Capitol, 1996]
I wondered why I didn't warm immediately to the fabled harmonizers' Razor & Tie best-of until I figured out what had put me off their newly reissued Satan Is Real: it leads with the title track, just as the best-of begins, "That word broadminded/Is spelled s-i-n/I read in my Bible/They shall not enter in." Add a weakness for marketable seminovelties and I'll take a newly reissued 36-minute 1956 debut whose hard, sad, simple tales are neither bedizened by Mammon nor drenched in Jesus, although they certainly welcome their Calvinist fate. Traditional ballads are matched with venerable pop fakes and newly minted sob stories, including the Louvins' own account of a seven-year-old who offers up all his toys and pennies to prevent his chosen lifemate, the daughter of the migrant workers next door, from moving on. Stark, beautiful, and imbued with an intensity of belief that will eat your sense of camp for breakfast. A