Essential New Music: The Louvin Brothers’ “Love And Wealth: The Lost Recordings”

Praise be to the Modern Harmonic for curating a sonic museum of the ethereal—at times otherworldly—sibling harmony, songwriting and unique delivery of the legendary Louvin Brothers’ custom brand of gospel and secular country music. Love And Wealth: The Lost Recordings is a collection of 1950s-era demo tapes from brothers Ira and Charlie. Within the grooves of this double-vinyl collection lies attempts at pushing their sound past their usually gospel-tinged workups and classic country feel with stabs at barnyard woogie on “Red Hen Boogie,” the subtle western swing of “Discontented Cowboy” and songs meant to crack a laugh at such as the entendre within “It’s All Off.” (Of which Ol’ Ira makes us keenly aware in his spoken message on the record’s commencement. There’s more than a few.)

Rest assured, there’s gospel in plenty, and the splendid lo-fi demos are extracted with a surgeon’s hands, cleaned up to near perfection. That’s not to say any of the Louvin Brothers’ former releases were squeaky clean. Most definitely not, but the perfection was always in the imperfection—or, better said, low fidelity in terms of recording gear only, certainly not that of voice or acoustic instrumentation. You can only imagine how astute the sound would be had the modern recording technology of today been accessible between ’56 and ’63.

There are simply no better two voices interwoven over a guitar and mandolin than Charlie and Ira Loudermilk (“Louvin” being an adopted moniker obtained early on in their career). Call it what you will, but that sound and ability was crafted in the womb, first instilled in the elder Ira then passed again through to two-years-younger brother Charlie. There wasn’t much better than Ira’s high and Charlie’s low in close harmony.

The irony of the Louvin Brothers legend is how high and sweetly sung their songs are, most in high praise of God and deeply rooted in the Baptist faith and its hymns, but how one half of the duo was almost literally filled with the devil. Charlie always felt the only time Ira was even remotely pure was when singing these songs and playing his mandolin, the rest of his short time on earth spent in pure misery. Ira was haunted by demons, loved the drink and the fairer sex, but he could sell the gospel in song.

Just one listen paints the picture that they were nearly saints, but quite the contrary. It was this behavior that led to the ultimate demise of the duo in 1963 as they were assumedly set to take over the world and were already regulars at the Grand Ole Opry. Ira died in fiery fashion in 1965 (Charlie from cancer in 2011). For more on all that, Charlie’s autobiography Satan Is Real: The Ballad Of The Louvin Brothers is a must read, just like 1959 album Satan Is Real is a must listen. It’s not so much a statement as it is a way of life. Love And Wealth: The Lost Recordings is the collection of unreleased songs from 1951-1956, yet it’s basically a religious experience in and of itself. Amen.

—Scott Zuppardo