Reviewed by Johan Palme on 14th December, 2015
The album Christmas With The Louvin Brothers surely must have sounded incredibly old-fashioned in 1961. Full of deeply felt Christian carols, presented in a straight-forward, unmannered way by two brothers who’d grown up in destitute poverty in rural Alabama and were extremely close. The record is sung with obvious religious fervor; the brothers are full of baptist fire and Christian charity. And the musical accompaniment and singing style echo the 1930s closer than the 1960s, with an obvious close-harmony kinship to the Carter Family that’s echoed on through the years in particularly retro-focused Americana.
And yet it’s a particularly beautiful album. The brothers’ closeness echoes through their harmonies, constantly interweaving, finding melodic contrasts in their meeting and mingling lines. This is very much where Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, and by extension hundreds of other musicians found key inspirtion. The Louvin Brothers are serious about their Christan message, but that earnestness results in conviction and expressiveness, not placid dullness. This is a beautiful, timeless Christmas record.
In fact, it’s so good that it may be churlish to point out that, like most well-crafted music, it’s substantially fake. The seemingly pious, deeply Christian brothers had tempestuous lives; Ira, especially, was a heavy, frequently violent drinker, a constantly unfaithful husband who married four times, and died a couple of years after this record was made in an alcohol-fueled car crash – The other driver, not Ira, mind. The record company that put their record out was Capitol, world leader in reecording technology, who put a substantial backing band behind them, almost imperceptibly, and edited their music and harmonies. And you know what? They weren’t even called Louvin. And you know what? This is a brilliant record, and it doesn’t matter.