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Going out on a limb as an artist is part of the job if you want to stand out, and Idiot Grins delivered in spades on their latest LP, Thoughts & Prayers. Instead of drafting in an obscure collaborator or involving left-of-field instrumentation, the group went for a direct cover of a classic ’50s record by The Louvin Brothers; a modern reimagining that’s still faithful (religious overtones inclusive) to the original.
The idea for the album came about towards the completion of their third album, State of Health. During a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame, lead guitarist Randy Strauss purchased a vinyl copy of Satan Is Real from the gift shop.
“I suggested that while we wrote new songs, we dash off a cover album of Satan Is Real, for fun,” said Strauss, who used Gram Parsons’ guitar on the new record in tribute to a major fan of the Louvin Brothers’ music.
For the listener, knowing the original might be helpful before diving into this reworking, but it’s certainly not mandatory. The reverence that Idiot Grins hold for the original record is evident throughout, and you’ll find the same gorgeous melodies and powerful song structures that make this music timeless.
This is a collection of straightforward, honest, heartfelt, and melancholic stories delivered through a blend of soulful country, gospel, and folk—all part of the tapestry of Americana. Capping this off is the masterful production that has a gritty, live feeling that exudes raw authenticity.
The album opener (‘Satan Is Real’) is essentially a sermon presented over a doleful acoustic guitar played in a waltz. The bombastic message is packed with tales of hell, the consequences of our actions in life, and to stay vigilant of the ever-present threat of the devil.
Next up is the livelier and more uplifting ‘There’s a Higher Power’, packed with barreling drums and sparky guitar lines. Gospel vocals and country pluckin’ abound on the more subdued ‘The Christian Life’, while the energetic ‘The River of Jordan’ lays out biblical authority over glossy, glittery guitars.
The tracks don’t let up with the stories of doom and salvation, covering the perils of alcohol, mortality, existentialism, the omnipresence of God, and even the loss of a child. While heavenly organs and communal chanting might envelop ‘The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea’, bouncier R&B rhythms can sometimes be the backing for the most ostensibly serious tracks, like ‘Are You Afraid to Die?’
The album closers are ‘The Angels Rejoiced Last Night’, which shines with optimistic flair and overtones of hope and redemption aided by sweet piano lines, and ‘I’m Ready to Go Home’, an aptly titled track that describes the final journey.
There are no big thrills or fancy machinations on this LP. It aims for and achieves the vibe of walking into a church with local musicians delivering their message without pretension, and Idiot Grins have succeeded in letting the quality of The Louvin Brothers’ music speak for itself.