First off, let me just say that I have never heard of the Louvin Brothers. In all honesty I wouldn't be surprised if a fair amount of people my age haven't. The album Tragic Songs of Life was released in 1956 and is filled with some of the purest country music you'll probably ever hear. The album is filled with songs that tell tragic stories (hence the album title) of lost love, death, and even murder. What is truly interesting is that while the lyrics are about some incredibly heartbreaking things, the music is almost always happy sounding and with an upbeat tempo. I wonder if country music does it this way as a general rule so that there is always a slight optimism attached to counteract the gloomy reality of the the lyrics.
In regards to the music itself, the Louvin Brothers have two of the purest country voices I've heard in a while and their vocal harmony is about as flawless as you can get. The backing band is solid and is mixed well for this style of country music. Speaking of style, if you liked the music from O Brother Where Art Thou then you will probably like this album quite a bit. However, where this differs from O Brother Where Art Thou is in the variety of what you are hearing. The Louvin Brothers basically play the same two rhythms during their songs. "Boom-chuck" and "boom-chuck-chuck". This really isn't that much of a negative because the vocals and lyrics are quite unique in each song, but it may become annoying if you aren't really crazy about this genre of music.
Verdict: This is a great album in that it showcases great vocal harmony and poignant storytelling, and because of that, this is album needs to be heard. You may not like it. It may be too repetitive or you may even dislike the singing, but even so you should hear this album. Every songwriter should study these songs thoroughly and any self-respecting country or folk artist should own this album and memorize the songs. The Louvin Brothers are the real deal, and are a real hoot to listen to. Check them out. You won't be sorry.