Based in Oakland, California, Americana-country-R&B outfit the Idiot Grins released a new album just a few days ago – entitled Thoughts & Prayers.
Thoughts & Prayers is a song-for-song interpretation of the Louvin Brothers’ 1959 album, Satan Is Real.
Explaining how the album came into being, guitarist Randy Strauss, shares, “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 beautiful 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.”
Made up of Mike Conner (piano, organ), Evan Eustis (vocals, bass, mandolin), John Hansen (vocals), Michael Melgoza (drums), and Randy Strauss (guitars), on Thoughts & Prayers, the Idiot Grins went all the way back to the nuts and bolts, blending functional guitar, bass, piano, and drums with “blood harmony,” aka organic vocals.
Although in real-world terms the Idiot Grins and the Louvin Brothers are as like as chalk and cheese, there’s an aspect to their music that strikes a chord in almost every heart.
Randy Strauss sums it up, saying, “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 1940s or 1950s 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.”
Comprising 12-tracks, Thoughts & Prayers starts off with “Satan Is Real,” a song about the consequences free will decisions have on each person’s final abode – heaven or hell. Opening on twangy guitars shaping a gospel-flavored melody, “Satan Is Real” travels on a reserved, glowing organ topped by drawling vocals and a spoken-word explication.
Entry points include “The Christian Life,” which features a measured rhythm, oozing plinking instruments, and luscious reedy gospel vocals. “The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea” rolls out on a sing-song flow atop a country-gospel melody, while nasal-like voices infuse the lyrics with beseeching timbres.
“The Angels Rejoiced Last Night,” offers twang-filled harmonies supported by teeter-totter harmonics. The piano, tinny but eloquent, imbues the music with gleaming tones. The lead vocals on “I’m Ready To Go Home” give the lyrics taut earnest inflections, as the narrator describes his expectation of seeing the gates of heaven.
“Lord, I’ve been faithful in the service you have given.”
Wonderfully wrought, on Thoughts & Prayers, the Idiot Grins deliver old-time gospel music laced with country textures and superb vocals.