Idiot Grins are a rock and soul band from Oakland, California. Idiot Grins released their new album, Thoughts & Prayers on November 6, 2020. Thoughts & Prayers is a reinterpretation of the Louvin Brothers 1959 country-gospel classic Satan is Real. This is the fourth album from Idiot Grins, following Quarry from 2012, Big Man from 2015 and 2017’s State of Health featuring the Byrd Sisters. That last album featured the Top 10 digital radio hit “Get Busy Dying” and Top 40 digital radio hit “Take it Back”.
On Thoughts & Prayers, Idiot Grins strip down to the basics of guitar, bass, piano and drums, together with good old fashioned “blood harmony” on such classic songs as “Satan is Real”, “The Christian Life” and “The Angels Rejoiced.” The Louvin Brothers sound is part of the primal ooze that makes up American music, drawing inspiration from ancient European traditions, hillbilly tunes, rockabilly and the blues. Although they produced hit secular records, the Louvin Brothers never abandoned their gospel origins, and their spiritual convictions are never far from the surface. On Satan is Real, they put voice to a haunting vision of religious devotion tempered by a terrifying vision of hell and damnation. Mothers, drunks and babies die within these songs, with their final destination of heaven or hell determined by their earthly choices.
As an Oakland, California band, Idiot Grins are a world away from the Louvin Brothers of 1940’s and 1950’s Alabama, both socially and politically. Still, there is something in the honesty and fervor that is conveyed in these songs that speaks to any generation or worldview. Thoughts & Prayers should appeal to fans of Americana, roots music, country and alt-country, as well as anyone who is interested taking an honest look at the history of American music.
Idiot Grins’Randy Strauss explains: “This all started back in 2017 when the band went to Nashville to master our last album, State of Health. At the Country Music Hall of Fame gift shop, I bought a brand new vinyl copy of Satan is Real by the Louvin Brothers, one of my favorite albums. This is a 1959 classic that has some of the most beautifcul country gospel ever recorded, together with one of the most interesting homemade album covers ever. As State of Health was released and generated two digital radio hits, we were looking around for ideas for our next project. I suggested that while we wrote new songs, we dash off a cover album of Satan is Real, just for fun. It took just about three years from that germ of an idea until the completed album due to a variety of unexpected twists and turns.”
Unexpected connections from the past all pointed towards the completion of this ambitious project.
Randy continues: “When I acquired Gram Parson’s guitar several years ago, it came with a note from Emmylou Harris that said whoever bought the guitar should play some George Jones songs on it. That always resonated with me. Using that guitar on every song on this album was my personal tribute to Gram Parsons, who loved the Louvin Brothers and covered Angels Rejoiced from Satan is Real with Emmylou Harris.
During these hyper-polarized times, it is pretty clear to me that I would not have very much in common with the Louvin Brothers of the 1940’s or 1950’s, or much of their audience. Despite this, there is something about the sincerity and earthiness of their music that cuts past all of that and reaches into my soul. I don’t believe we should ignore the painful lessons of our history while we strive for a more hopeful future. I think music is part of that history.
I have to admit that my band mates were not always sure what I was trying to do with this project. This is pretty foreign territory for us. I love them like brothers for taking it on without too much dissent and helping us see it through. Mostly, I just wanted to see if we could. The Louvin Brothers were the greatest country harmony group ever, and we can’t touch them. But it was a hell of a lot of fun trying.”
“May I add that I can’t say enough about the great work Evan Eustis and John Hansen did singing these songs. They were given what I consider to be an impossible assignment – sing the Louvin Brothers. We didn’t even bother to find out what keys to play the songs in to suit their ranges. We just learned them off the record and played them in the original keys. But Evan and John worked their asses off to learn the parts and arrange them among themselves so that they found the parts that worked for them on each song. Ira and Charlie Louvin had the good fortune of being brothers, and like the Everlys and the Wilsons, the family character comes through in a supernatural way. Ira and Charlie also divided up the parts in a different way. Ira always sang the tenor harmony, but often sang the lead as well. When the harmony comes in, he climbs up too sing it while Charlie steps in as the lead voice. Evan and John worked all that out while being anything but brothers in the sense of having blood harmony. They know what I mean!”
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