Louvin Brothers – Satan Is Real

January 01, 1970

(Light In The Attic)




Charlie and Ira Louvin recorded Satan Is Real in three days in August 1958 as part of a 10-day
studio stint that also produced all or most of two other albums. The album
wasn’t released until November of the following year: Capitol Records wasn’t in
a rush to release a set of dark, conflicted testaments, and there was some
question of the Louvins’ relevance in the age of Elvis. Satan Is Real is a gospel album, one of the most successful of the many
that the brothers recorded between 1947 and 1963, but it’s as much about the
hellish, fearful side of believing as it is about the succor of salvation; in some
ways, its sentiments are more akin to those found in gospel blues album than in
the archetypal close-harmony country of the Louvins. It’s a strange album with
an even stranger cover, and both are classics.


Ira Louvin, the tall, hellraising, mandolin-playing (and
-smashing) brother to the more grounded, guitar-playing Charlie, opens the
album singing,  “Satan is real, working
with power, he can tempt you and
lead you astray,” before launching into a preacherly recitation. That tension
between Satan and salvation plays out throughout the album, and at times,
Satan’s temptations risk outshining
God’s salvation (Satan’s been a scene-stealer going back at least as far as Milton’s Paradise Lost). Ira’s recitations
punctuate several tracks here, and they risk sounding hokey today, but they’re
also a key part of the world of Satan Is
: it’s a place where sin and failure are the starting point, and the
threat of them being the ending point looms. It’s a scary place, full of
pleading kneeling drunkards and imminent death. “Are you afraid to die?,” they
ask, but they aren’t reassured about eternal life; instead, they want to make
us fear our fallible, sinful states. And it’s a place of firm belief, as
proclaimed in “The Christian Life,” the song later covered by the Byrds. But
the harmonies and duets of Charlie and Ira are the anchor here, as much as
faith is, and the album is full of great songs sung greatly.


This package is, of course, graced with the iconic original
cover, dreamt up by the brothers, which shows Ira and Charlie in white suits,
pink shirts and black ties, open-armed and open-mouthed, standing in front of
flames (produced from kerosene-soaked tires), with a tall, plywood folk-art
devil behind them, pitchfork poised above Ira’s head. The package is also
graced with a bonus disc of “Handpicked Songs, 1955-1962,” which amounts to a
greatest hits collection. Before Charlie’s death in 2011, there was talk of him
recording a set of duets with Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers as a bonus
disc for this reissue. Instead, we get favorite Louvins songs chosen by a
wide-range of artists, from Emmylou Harris, Chris Hillman and Graham Nash to
Jim James, Beck and Will Oldham, many of whom offer testimonials of their own
in the accompanying booklet. Here you’ll find “When I Stop Dreaming,” “Cash on
the Barrelhead,” “Knoxville Girl” and other non-secular hits, all


There’s not a better pearly gateway to the great, higher
power of the Louvin Brothers.


DOWNLOAD: “There’s
a Higher Power,” “The Christian Life,” “When I Stop Dreaming.”  STEVE KLINGE


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