OK. Enough. Tribute records have to go. These are merely cash-cow attempts by labels and producers to rope people in for a seemingly benevolent reason -- to offer a fresh look at artists whose work endures in the musical if not in the popular canon. Livin', Lovin', Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers, a tribute to Charlie and Ira Louvin, is the last nail in the coffin. The songs of the Louvins, as performed by the brothers, had an otherworldly edge. They were successful during their era, the 1950s and early '60s, for a reason: they offered a view of life, love, loss, and the ever-present and eerie power of a God just beyond the pale with genuine wonder, fear, and pathos. Performed by superstars, legends, and others, most of the 16 tracks on Livin', Lovin', Losin' add nothing to the originals and, if anything, make somewhat generic what was special in its iconoclasm. The Louvins would not have a recording contract in this day and age, and any attempt by Carl Jackson to make them sound contemporary enough to be relevant in the stupid paranoid world of Nash Vegas country music circa 2003 is just ridiculous. There are some fine performances here. The James Taylor/Alison Krauss reading of "How's the World Treating You" is smooth but keeps the uneasy tension of the original. The Merle Haggard/Carl Jackson read of "Must You Throw Dirt in My Face" sticks very close to the Louvins'. Its heartbreak and controlled anger is at the heart of the tune and expressed with just the right touch of bewilderment. "When I Stop Dreaming" by Glen Campbell and Leslie Satcher is one of the watershed cuts here. Its expression of desperation and desire is past merely poetic; it drips tears like blood and is the finest recorded Campbell vocal performance in over a decade. Dolly Parton and Sonya Isaacs turn in easily the most authentic performance on the set with "The Angels Rejoiced." Their vocal nuances and tight harmony keep the edgy Louvin Brothers delivery at the forefront of the song, making it one of those truly scary gospel tunes. Pam Tillis, Johnny Cash, and the Jordanaires deliver "Keep Your Eyes on Jesus" with a mixture of new interpretation and fiery old country gospel that marks the split in personality this recording embodies so well. It works, mostly because of Cash's apocalyptic reading from the Bible and Tillis' earnest, yearning in her vocal. The Jordanaires add that "this-is-the-end-of-the-record" crescendo, which mars the track a bit, but that's indicative of how, no matter how well-intentioned, tribute records ultimately fail. The artists don't keep their eyes on the prize -- celebrating the original achievement of the subject -- but gaze inward at how they can make the subject's work reflect their own musical prowess.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek