1001 Albums: Tragic Songs of Life



Artist: The Louvin Brothers

Album: Tragic Songs of Life

Year: 1956

Length: 35:55

“In the Pines
In the Pines
Where the sun never shines
And you shiver when the cold wind blows”

Ok, So, I’m starting to run into a bit of a problem already. It’s not a big deal but can affect how I write these posts. I am listening to albums faster than I can write posts about them. As I write this I’ve already almost completed the album after this one and it will probably continue like that. The way it currently stands is that I listen to the albums off my Ipod on my way to and from work. The bus ride is long enough that I can get through an entire album on one trip, meaning I could listen (depending on the length of the album) to roughly two albums a day. Not bad, If I was purely listening to the album, but I’m also writing posts… but no worries, as I listen i write my thoughts down so a rough outline is produced for the post, so even if I go ahead and beyond, at least I won’t forget what was going through my mind.

That being said, this album. Man, I was really down to listen to some good old country music. Not a fan, usually, but I love me some mandolin, such a great instrument, the quick-pickings of its strings never fails to amuse me (in the best way possible).

I will be honest, right from the top, when these two brothers (at least I think they are, that’s the idea they’re selling us, but then again Meg and Jack White said they were siblings and were actually married, so who knows maybe the Louvin Brothers are actually the Louvin Lovers… I think I’m onto something here…).

What was I saying… oh right, when these two brothers (or loveeeeers) started singing, I immediately pictured two chicken farmers playing in a cowboy bar. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not insulting them in any way by calling them chicken farmers. I actually hold chicken farmers in quite high regard, they’re doing a great service to our nation, raising us delicious poultry and high quality eggs. Sandra loves eggs, she keeps trying to make them for me every morning for breakfast even though I keep telling her I don’t want eggs, but she keeps insisting that she make me eggs. I DON’T WANT FREAKING EGGS SANDRA!!!

But I do love chickens, I think chickens are some of the funniest animals out there. Ever look at one? They’re hilarious! I thought chickens were so funny it became part of a comedic routine in a play I was doing. Don’t believe me? Ask Sandra she will tell you. I once saw a video of a chicken wearing pants. Ridiculous!

Ok… I went on a tangent there and sort of diverted away from the album. So like I was saying, it sounded like two chicken farmers playing in a cowboy club. Ever seen the Blues brothers? the scene where they enter the western bar and are asked to play good old country music? That’s exactly what I was picturing throughout the entire album. Once again, I’m saying that as a good thing, that they were able to create a feel that carried itself throughout the whole album and did it well. I felt the need to get up and do a hoe down and yell YEEHAW right back at them (that’s what cowboys do… right? Right?! RIGHT?!?!). I’m sure when they were playing in bars, they had the crowds dancing on tables and whistling away, throwing beer bottles at chicken wire (I saw it in the movie, so that must be what happens).

When they decided to call this album Tragic Songs of Life, I thought it was just a cool title. Nope, they really weren’t kidding when they called it that because one song after another truly is a tragic song of life. As a listener you are met with one sad story after another, from heart break to death to difficult love lives to poverty to pure depression, dear lord can somebody just please sing a song about dancing and partying and having a good time for once? I’m not saying this is a bad thing or that the music they’re singing is bad (the opposite actually, for country music I actually enjoyed this album and anyone who knows me knows I hate country with a burning passion), it’s just as a listener you can only take so much sadness in songs (this is mostly due to listening to the Sinatra one two days before, it’s a lot for one person). I really hope the next one is much more cheerful.

Now, I can’t end this post without talking about one song in particular. That song was Knoxville Girl. This song caught me completely by surprise, not because it was suddenly happy but of how dark it was. You’re listening to one sad story after another and then suddenly it switches and the narrator turns into some psychopathic murderer. From the My Brother’s Will to Knoxville Girl I had sort of phased out and wasn’t paying much attention and it definitely captured my attention when I suddenly heard them singing about how they picked up a stick and whacked a fat, ugly girl with it. Wait… what? Did I hear that properly? yes, I did. The rest of the song proceeds to explain how they kept her in their house and basically force fed her (a la that movie that every single film studies student likes to refer to to make it seem like they know good movies but in reality it just sounds like they haven’t really seen many movies because every single film studies student constantly references this movie, so you’re just jumping on the band wagon of film opinions. You know the movie, and if you don’t… you need to watch more movies) and then they grab her by the pigtails and drown her in a lake. Dear lord, what happened? It’s ok because they proceed to be sent to jail and spend the rest of their lives in a cell that their friends couldn’t even get them out of. Man is this song dark, violent, brutal and downright just malicious.

…I love it, it was my favourite song off the album. This is definitely a great portrayal of dark comedy and might quite possibly be an early instance in modern music, at least that’s how I took it. I don’t know if that’s what the intention was or if it really is, but that’s how I saw it and it honestly makes it so much better if it is.

If you get a chance check it out, unless you don’t like dark comedy, then stay away.


Photoshop Credit: Julian Branco


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