("Exploring the Classics" (ETC) is an ongoing series in which I highlight and discuss an album from country music's past that is of particular noteworthiness due to general acclaim, influence, historical import, commercial success, or some combination thereof. While in many instances I'll be revisiting albums with which I've long been familiar, in others I'll be experiencing these works for the first time. What albums count as "noteworthy" is obviously highly subjective and determined at my discretion, but I'm not too strict about it. I do, however, feel that these are the works that tell the story of country music and all of its many roots and branches.)
Charlie and Ira Louvin might not enjoy the same level of name recognition as some other legends, but a familiarity with their work is absolutely essential if you wish to have a full understanding of the history of country music. Building on the tradition of close harmony duet singing, the combination of Ira's tenor and Charlie's baritone took the country music world by storm in the 1950s and 1960s. The duo recorded numerous songs that would go on to become country standards and had an impact that was deep and wide, directly influencing musical giants like the Everly Brothers, Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. While the brothers' discography is thoroughly excellent (the career-spanning Bear Family box set Close Harmony is as good of a compilation there is), two albums in particular are widely celebrated: 1959's gospel Satan is Real (which I will undoubtedly also cover at some point), and their 1956 debut LP, the secular Tragic Songs of Life.