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From the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

Tragic Songs of Life

The Louvin Brothers

1956

Tragic Songs of Life
Album Summary

Tragic Songs of Life is the debut album by American country music duo The Louvin Brothers, released in 1956. "Knoxville Girl" was released as a single three years later and reached number 19 on the Billboard Country Singles chart.

Wikipedia

Rating

2.57

Votes

9243
Genres
Folk
Country

Reviews

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Thu Apr 08 2021
1

“Tragic Songs of Life” by The Louvin Brothers (1956) Most younger listeners should pass this one by, but there are some notable observations. As a sibling singing duo, The Louvin Brothers provide a good example of perfectly matched diction, a phenomenon rarely found in paired singers who didn’t grow up in the same home. Each vowel is identically mirrored, and the rounding of every diphthong is timed in a perfect match. This contributes to an exquisite tonal blend, and is very pleasing to the ear. As individual voices, however, their tone is sub par, with high throat and nasal whininess that is grating, and a near total lack of sonority. Harmonies lack variety. In terms of composition, there is a heavy reliance on the lilting 3/4 time signatures so popular in early country music, the dancing mood of which is a definite mismatch for serious ballads. I want to laugh and cry at the same time. Mostly laugh. Guitar work is unremarkable, but mandolin is skillfully executed, and likely had a modest influence on subsequent musicians. Let me save y’all some time: listen to one track and move on with the rest of your day. Sad to say, it doesn’t even matter which track you choose. 1/5

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Wed Jun 02 2021
5

Heavy album with some wild lyrics, but the music and harmonies were just great

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Mon Oct 04 2021
5

This is just brilliant. I love the stories, the singing and the playing. The storytelling is oftentimes edge of your seat stuff - what did happen to Sally? Why did you do what you in Knoxville? If this were rap music, we’d be trying to get these evil criminals banned! Evocative of a time and place, this record fully deserves its place in this list.

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Mon Feb 01 2021
4

Wow! When they said tragic they bloody meant it. It’s a dark humour teamed with some classic country and western close harmony singing. I don’t normally like this style of music but there were so many times that I swore from the shock of the stories that I got to give it a high rating.

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Thu Feb 24 2022
4

Honestly, this is a cool album. I didn't know what to think of it at first, but for a country album from the mid-50s that I've never heard of, it's a fuckin toe-tapper. 4/5

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Mon Sep 19 2022
4

This is a fantastic album of country/bluegrass/Appalachian music. The harmonies reached by the brothers, and their tenor voices are beautiful. The mandolin playing, especially in the song Let Her Go, God Bless Her, by Ira Louvin is awesome. This album, as referenced by the title "Tragic Songs of Life" is full of songs about heartache and loss (as is usually the case with country music). The songwriting is beautiful, and each song artfully tells a story. Notable songs include: Tiny Broken Heart is a touching song about heartbreak; The whooping in the song In The Pines is awesome; The lyrics to Alabama paint a beautiful picture of the state; Katie Dear is a very dark song about forbidden love; My Brother's Will is a very sad and beautiful song about the loss of a sibling; Knoxville Girl was a shockingly morbid song about murder; Take the News to Mother is a sad song about war and loss; Mary of the Wild Moor is a sad song about death and loss. The last four songs were full of messages about God and religion, and were beautiful in their own right. Notable songs from this section of the album include: Lord, I'm Coming Home has a haunting, echoy chorus which drives home the message of spiritual awakening; Thankful is a beautiful hymn about being thankful for the blessings given by God every day. Favourite songs: "Let Her Go, God Bless Her", "In The Pines", "Alabama", "My Brother's Will", "Knoxville Girl" Least favourite song : I'll Be All Smiles Tonight Overall, I really enjoyed this album! 4/5

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Sun Feb 21 2021
3

These boys love singing about murder and I liked it!

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Thu Feb 11 2021
3

This album cover looks like a horror movie poster. I really enjoyed this album. Through no fault of its own, I had a hard time concentrating on it. I mostly associate this kind of music with background music on television and in films. It was lovely to listen to while I worked yesterday, yet I couldn’t tell you anything about any of the songs. One of these brothers sings like a lady though. He harmonized at a very high pitch. Maybe 3 stars isn’t fair, but I have a hard time giving it more.

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Fri Apr 07 2023
3

Released in 1956, this album features twelve tracks, each of which tells a poignant story of love, loss, and heartache whilst showcasing the duo’s unique blend of traditional country music with gospel harmonies. Standout tracks on the album include "I Can't Keep You in Love with Me", a heart-wrenching ballad about a man's failed attempts to save his relationship, and "Are You Teasing Me", a playful love song with a catchy melody. The album's final God Bless Her", is a tribute to a departed lover that showcases the Louvin Brothers' vocal range and expressive phrasing. Throughout Tragic Songs of Life, the Louvin Brothers demonstrate their ability to blend country music with gospel harmonies, creating a sound that is both deeply personal and universally appealing. Their music speaks to the joys and sorrows of life in a way that is both timeless and enduring.

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Wed Feb 17 2021
2

See, this is one of those influencer albums that you can have an opinion on, but that opinion will almost certainly be wrong to everyone else. I thought I would like this well enough, and I guess I did, but each song was so similar to the others that I couldn't tell you if one was good in comparison. The only standout was their version of In The Pines, which just made me want to learn more about the song, and the Louvin's version isn't even the best I've heard. Ultimately, this style has been replicated better by newer artists, and I think that is a good thing. Also too much Jesus.

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Fri Mar 05 2021
1

Not what I was looking for in my musical listening experience at this moment. I'm sure they were very influential to the next generation of country artists. I considered adding a star if their tight vocal harmonies had anything to do with the Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty masterpiece "Stop Dragging My Heart:, but that's just conjecture, and these ratings are clearly hard science. I'll take half the vocalists and twice the soul and call him Hank. D

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Fri Mar 05 2021
5

almost slept on this one. There's some real swell harmonies here, and an old-school melancholy that tugs at me heartstrings. 5/5

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Wed Sep 02 2020
4

It's pre-rockabilly country music, which applies well to a certain slow rockabilly type of mood

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Thu Apr 14 2022
4

Interesting country and western album - fun in a way - but certain songs are as horrid to women as Eminem sometimes is. Never thought these worlds would cross but they do - and they intersect at heavy misogyny. But musically - yeah - good Americana, interesting harmonies - although at parts repetitive. Overall pleasant.

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Thu Apr 21 2022
4

The Louvin Brothers is a band I know of, and I've heard at least a track or two from the band including "In the Pines" from this album (Tragic Songs of Life). I also like other bands that have credited The Louvin Brothers as an influence (e.g. Ralph Stanley, The Stanley Brothers). Overall, I like this album. I used to be more okay with some of the sexism and murder ballads found in Old Timey music. "Knoxville Girl" is a 'traditional song' that I'd probably want to skip on a re-listen. I'll round-up to 4 stars anyway.

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Fri Apr 07 2023
4

Had never heard these guys. The close harmonies are rock solid and the melodies are pretty classic gospel-roots Appalachia/trad country and I understand they're pioneers of a sort. A bit repetitive to my ear in 2023, not sure how much relevancy/staying power the album has almost 7 decades later outside of the legacy of canonizing this style of music, but it made the tedious tasks I had to do today a bit more bearable. 3 feels too low and 4 too high for my subjective experience of it.

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Wed Jul 06 2022
3

When I saw this name, I thought it was gonna be some saucier version of the Everly Brothers, but it ain't Lovin, it's Louvin. These guys are country boys, and their songs have, as the parentheticals indicate, religious overtones. The style is very classic country, a style that I enjoy in doses but find it tough to sit with for an album's length. I like that there's a song called Kentucky AND a song called Alabama, just so we have no idea where they are actually from. And I of course enjoyed "In the Pines," that song has persisted for decades (largely thanks to Kurt Cobain), and I'm glad these guys left out the racial language from the original that would've made their cover very awkward. Decent album. Favorite tracks: In the Pines, What is Home Without Love, Satan Lied to Me. Album art: Nothing crazy, but the boys in the weird, washed-out black and white paired with the woman in the background clutching money is cool. The title has an urgency to it, but not as urgent as their album "Satan is Real." The cover for that one belongs in a museum. 3/5

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Fri Dec 30 2022
3

Dunk me in water and sing hallelujah, this is nice bluesgrassy close harmony southern tunes. Very influential over bands like First Aid Kit I'd say. Great window into a very American form of Christian baptist music if you're into that. It's good for a particular coen brothers mood, or from an anthropological l/ music history perspective. Otherwise it's quite one note and overlong.

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Sun Aug 01 2021
2

I'm all for guitars and harmonies but this is just endless.

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Sun Apr 10 2022
5

Simple but effective. The lyrics are seriously well-written.

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Sun Jul 17 2022
5

Maybe I’m just in a great mood, but I loved this and would definitely listen to it again. This project is making me realize that old school country is an entire genre I’ve ignored, for shame.

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Wed Sep 28 2022
5

Really enjoyed this. Reminded me of Marty Robbins! Will seek out this on vinyl

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Thu Nov 17 2022
5

I've generally shied away from country music, but this album has always just killed me. It's a recording of two brothers who were born to sing together, with some sparse instrumentation that never detracts from those killer harmonies. Despite the title, not every song is bleak and tragic (unlike Nick Cave's Murder Ballads, which is exactly what it says on the tin) - "Alabama" is a positive recollection of the brothers' home state, "Let Her Go, God Bless Her" is a rollicking kiss-off song, but the tragic songs are the ones that people remember best. "My Brother's Will" is absolutely bleak, "Knoxville Girl" is an old-school murder ballad, and "Katie Dear" is the bounciest song about a suicide pact you're likely to hear. "A Tiny Broken Heart" straight up makes me cry every time I hear it despite having the lowest stakes of the "tragic" songs. This album is definitely an acquired taste, but it is an important example of Americana/bluegrass transitioning into that classic old-school country sound, and I'm definitely happy that the Louvin Brothers are in the 1001 instead of the umpteenth mediocre British electronica album.

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Fri Jan 13 2023
5

Being raised in a FWB church, this sound is entirely familiar and nostalgic to me. I loved every bit of this. Favorite track - In the Pines Least favorite track - Satan Lied to Me

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Thu Jan 26 2023
5

I was not expecting to like this this much, soothing, chilling, a nice rainy day country vibe i fw all the way thru

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Sun May 21 2023
5

I LOVE this album cover… and “Tragic Songs of Life” definitely tipped me off to the contents, and this album delivered. The old-style country was enjoyable to me today. I loved the music and the tight harmonies of the Louvin Brothers. Excellent addition to the list.

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Sun May 21 2023
5

I love the title of the album, the cover art, the instrumentation, the twangy harmonies, and the old-timey lyrics. (Well...not the lyrics where the women have no agency which is...a lot of them actually... and certainly not the wtf lyrics of Knoxville Girl. Seriously, wtf?) These guys sure can sing! Nicely different from much of the rest of the 1001.

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Sun May 21 2023
5

I always love when I'm listening to these beautiful old-timey harmonies and mandolin and just when it might start to feel a bit monotonous, I hear a lyric about stabbing oneself or beating someone to death with a stick for no discernible reason. I also wasn't able to decide whether Kentucky or Alabama have the loveliest tribute song. This isn't an album I'm going to play much again, but I so appreciated hearing something different like this in the project that it gets bonus points for being special.

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Sun Oct 29 2023
5

At this point in my musical journey, I feel that I have to apologize to country. A bunch of fuckwads from the 90s and 00s co-opted the sound and took out the substance. I'm so glad the roots are still alive enough to allow some modern artists to hold the banner, but damn has it been tough.

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Wed Nov 15 2023
5

I'm so glad this list includes Bluegrass. This was an excellent album. Some of the lyrics of these songs are incredible. Bluegrass reminds me of home and family. These songs do good for the soul.

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Tue Nov 21 2023
5

Wow, this was fantastic. I love old country & bluegrass, but I'm surprised I've never heard of this band before. I'm willing to bet The Louvin Brothers influenced a lot of country that followed them, and I can distinctively hear hints of Dwight Yoakam on this album. I'm thankful this was on the challenge.

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Sat Jan 06 2024
5

That I can award 5 stars to a bloody C&W album! Only if Hank Williams will be on 1001 lists I would have expected that. Their perfectly matching voices, the selection of das, beautiful songs and the purity of just vocals, guitar and mandoline, all is brilliant (certainly after the prog rock madness of Yes I just had top listen to). Favorite: In the Pines. Maybe because I knew this already from Nirvana.

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Thu Jan 18 2024
5

Great Jesus loving bluegrass country gospel.

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Thu Feb 01 2024
5

great masters of early mountain music

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Thu Feb 22 2024
5

The Louvin Brothers - Tragic Songs of Life Debut album from the brothers. Old school country music. And the Louvin Brothers have such a wild story. There's a podcast called Cocaine & Rhinestones that does an episode on them. (Side note, there are so many wild episodes on that podcast. If you want to learn more about country music and the dark side of it, give it a listen). Knoxville Girl is a traditional Appalachian murder song and was a huge hit for the brothers. I don't know how these songs were so popular in the 50s, but boomers need to stop saying lyrics from our generation are violent. This album is great. It is a true representation of early country music, cowboy songs, harmonies, gospel, and if course murder/death. 5/5

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Sun Oct 11 2020
4

Ur-country, and a shining example of what a few voices and instruments can accomplish. Any sameness here exists in terms of tone (which is hardly a bad thing for a record) and in terms of the basic rhythmic structure. But that's what you get for committing popular music to a recording.

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Fri Apr 09 2021
4

Lovely Americana. Great harmonies, love the mandolin. Knew them from "Satan is Real", glad it's a bit less religious. Interesting rendition of "In the Pines" Favorite tracks: "Kentucky", "Knoxville Girl"

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Wed Feb 17 2021
4

I had heard “Satan Is Real” which is a banger but had not heard this one before. I thought it was much of the same 50’s doo wop country which I really like. I like the stories on this album and a lot of the music they played was traditional tunes that have been around for a long time. Their voices work really well together. Favorite song: Knoxville Girl Least favorite song: Alabama

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Fri Jul 16 2021
4

Randomness is sending me all countrified lately. Not really my genre. This is good, although a lot of that leans pretty heavy on the traditional and folk music it draws from.

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Fri Mar 05 2021
4

It’s like Hank Williams/Bluegrass. We’re they the originators of In the Pines? Their yodeling on it is beautiful. A lot of violence against women in this album—I think o heard a podcast about Knoxville Girl. But I think these songs are old Appalachian songs. Eerie to hear them with the dulcet tones of bluegrass and country. Oh, haha, the title is “Tragic Songs of Life” didn’t catch that. Interesting how my mood affects my rating. Given that this is repetitive if’s probably give it a lower score, but I’m really giving with it, sonic going to give it a 4. And in spite of the violence.

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Wed Jun 23 2021
4

A bit of a nostalgic album for me, as I remember some of these songs from visiting my grandma as a kid. Simple, but fantastic songwriting and storytelling.

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Wed Aug 18 2021
4

Agradable sorpresa! No he escuchado mucho country con este rollo de dos voces armonizando, pero ha estado guay!

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Thu Jan 20 2022
4

album had terrible quality but right up my street. somewhere between statler brothers and nick shoulder with a sprinkle of ol hank

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Sun Aug 14 2022
4

Wow, this is remarkable, how had I never heard of this before? Such tight harmonies.

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Mon Sep 05 2022
4

This was a perfect album for a lazy Sunday morning. Incredible harmonies and takes on a lot of traditional songs. The recording is very worn and lived in and it just feels so comfortable to put on. Great record.

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Sun Sep 11 2022
4

Got a bit too god ish at the end

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Thu Sep 15 2022
4

I actually quite enjoyed this

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Sun Oct 02 2022
4

Loved this!! Brilliant bass playing, simplicity done really well.

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Thu Oct 27 2022
4

If you’re into crazy murder ballad waltzes, Jesus, southern culture, and/or heartbreak, then the Louvin Brothers are for you! And yet… I listened to it all and kind of liked it.

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Thu Nov 24 2022
4

Phenomenal dual singing style. Ira Louvin's high over Charles Louvin's low shows them to be masters of the form. The mandolin breaks are fantastic as well. Overall, this is traditional country played best.

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Fri Jan 13 2023
4

I loved it. I was also shocked at how good the recordings sounded considering how old they are. The songs were all simple and some of them kinda blended into each other, but there was really nothing to dislike. I'm sure I'll run this back a few times this year.

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Fri Jan 13 2023
4

I love this style of music. The harmonies and story telling have a comforting sense about them. Twangy but lovely.

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Wed Jan 18 2023
4

I liked this one. A lot of the songs told little stories.

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Fri Jan 20 2023
4

From High Lonesome to High Dysfunction to High Crimes and Misdemenanors. Friends and Enemies in Low Places all across Weird Old America, including all the best trailer parks, and different, non-best housing tracts. One could listen to this all day.

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Thu Mar 23 2023
4

My favorite hobby is finding songs I already like on albums I’ve literally never heard of

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Wed Mar 29 2023
4

cute little record , great harmonies

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Fri Apr 07 2023
4

A year or two ago I would’ve given this a 2, but I’ve come to really appreciate country/Americana so this worked for me. Also a pretty interesting album title for the 50s.

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Sun May 21 2023
4

I can appreciate the role that this album might have in musical history. I think the brothers have honed their harmonies to produce a traditional folk-country sound, and I really thought that I would enjoy listening more than I did. It all just started to drone on after a while and the lyrics in many tunes just didn't appeal to me today.

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Sun May 21 2023
4

A solid, traditional country album. This has to be one of the first true albums in any genre, right? It's a bit heavy handed with its themes at times, but I don't find them to detract too much. While I said this was solid, nothing really stands out. It's a bunch of good songs, no great ones. A 3.5 being bumped to 4 because country is a genre that gets too much hate.

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Thu Jun 08 2023
4

Sounds fun and folksy but those lyrics are dark

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Fri Jun 16 2023
4

Valse présente, mandoline, harmonies, histoires tristes: proche de ce qu’on appelle au Québec le western. J’ai trouvé ça très attachant

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Tue Jul 11 2023
4

That pretty dark album. A gem of an oldie.

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Mon Jul 17 2023
4

Tragic songs of life indeed! Each of these songs is like a Terrence Malick movie. And sure it's a bit dated and quaint sounding, but the harmonies are amazing. My favorite part of their Wikipedia page: Ira Louvin was notorious for his drinking, womanizing, and volcanic temper. He was married four times; his third wife Faye shot him four times in the chest and twice in the hand after he allegedly tried to strangle her with a telephone cord. Although seriously injured, he survived. When performing and drinking, Ira would sometimes become angry enough on stage to smash his mandolin when he was unable to tune it, and - when sober - glue it back together. Ironically, Ira died from being hit by a drunk driver at the age of 41, when he himself had an arrest warrant out for a DUI. Even though it's not something I'll probably listen to again, I'm going with 4 stars on this one.

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Fri Jul 21 2023
4

Huh. There's no reason I should like this album. I am not a country fan on any level. I don't generally enjoy sad-sack crooning and I'm not into the whole murder ballad aesthetic. And yet... This album is a masterclass in performance and engineering. This is from back in the "do it all live in a single take" days of recording. There's no room for mistakes. And there are none. These boys know their art and are very good at it. It's hard not to get sucked into the storytelling when the performances are this good. So. Here I am. Giving good marks to, of all things, an old country album about murder and lost love. Strange days.

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Thu Jul 27 2023
4

this kind of country is hard to take seriously which is funny because i think it might be the most serious american music of all

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Sun Aug 13 2023
4

Lives up to its title for sure.

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Tue Aug 15 2023
4

This might be a tiny bit of an exaggeration, but the Louvin Brothers were the Righteous Gemstones of their day. Singing murder ballads in the gospel style is a gangster-ass move. Best track: Knoxville Girl

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Sat Sep 16 2023
4

Great 3 chords melodies and beautiful harmonies. Loved it.

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Sat Sep 30 2023
4

Love it. Very old fashioned country.

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Thu Oct 12 2023
4

Holy harmonies! The first half of the album is just bluegrass brilliance. The last part that is religious is a bit too too for me.

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Mon Oct 16 2023
4

I just wanted to crack open a cold beer and sit on a porch overlooking the Smokeys. Not much substance to discuss here. It's good. Is this album important enough to put on this list? Sure! Could you replace it with any number of bluegrass country albums from the same time period? Also sure! Four stars because why not?

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Wed Oct 25 2023
4

Well that was a surprise - wasn't expecting to enjoy that much. Some dark lyrics that would have Trent Reznor running for the hills!

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Fri Nov 10 2023
4

Good. I have to say I've got a soft spot for this type of music.

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Fri Nov 10 2023
4

Vilken trevlig överraskning! Deras stämsång är så tight de det låter som en röst. Klart det hjälper till att de är bröder. Kan lyssna på det här hela dagar.

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Fri Nov 10 2023
4

Good bluegrass twang. Not sure if I would listen to a full album in one sitting again but I would certainly add some to a playlist.

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Sun Nov 12 2023
4

A good album and an easy listen, I really enjoyed the old country style. I like In The Pines the best.

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Thu Dec 21 2023
4

Crazy how much better these guys are when the whole album isn’t about christianity

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Fri Dec 22 2023
4

This album caught me by total surprise. Threw it on while working out in the gym and it ended up playing through twice while I worked out. Thoroughly enjoyable.

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Thu Dec 28 2023
4

this album reminds me of walking in the middle of night in Fallout New Vegas. digitally wandering through the post-apocalyptic Mojave is such a powerful nostalgia for me that there was no way I could rate it less than three stars. it also reminded me of being high on kratom or a little tipsy while in my David Lynch and film noir class. that was also a real comfy time. Just hanging out a little intoxicated in a theater while watching old fifties and forties flicks.

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Thu Dec 28 2023
4

Classic trope of good sibling bad sibling making good music. Mandolin all over the album is fantastic and the brothers blood harmony is amazing

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Fri Jan 12 2024
4

Cool to recognize In The Pines! And that it dates back to 1870s

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Wed Jan 17 2024
4

Gotta say, after that first twang I thought “oh boy here we go.” And away we did go. It was every bit as twangy and stereotypical country as I thought it would be. But….it was good. I liked it. I liked it a lot. This album is Americana. It’s almost as much folk as it is country. Some real stand outs that I favorited on Spotify: Let Her Go In The Pines (of course) Katie Dear Knoxville Girl Satan Lied To Me.

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Wed Jan 17 2024
4

Klart intressant. Kul med Nirvana-originalet.

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