The Louvin Brothers – Tragic Songs of Life (1956)
A while ago, my friend Travis showed me this ghastly version of the terrific REM song Losing My Religion. It’s like nails on a chalkboard after being reworked into a major key! If you’re looking for an endurance test, try making it through the entire song. I have yet to get even remotely close.
So when track six of this one rolled around, I didn’t immediately recognize In The Pines. I’m used to hearing Kurt Cobain scream, “I shivered the whole night through,” to wrap up the MTV Unplugged in New York show.
By comparison, the mandolin intro on this version sounds positively gleeful:
The good news here is that I’ve been able to successfully listen to this major-scale based version several times.
I do quite like the contrast between the joyful music and the lyrics full of sorrow. Many of my favourite songs definitely follow this grim subject matter/beautiful melody format and I firmly believe that contrast makes for the most interesting pieces of music. I also approve of the ‘less is more’ school of thought, it’s a vocal/guitar/mandolin show throughout.
The eleven other Tragic Songs of Life feel like slight variations of similar harmonies & themes.
If you like their take on In The Pines (and I do, as a subdued change of pace), the rest of the record should fit the bill.
However, if In The Pines as heard above sounds like another one of those wretched major key reworkings, be prepared for more of the same!