Country music is supposed to tell stories, and nobody tells better, creepier stories than The Handsome Family. These people are downright disturbing -- and disturbed -- which makes it more of a pleasure to hear what they have to say.

Brett Sparks writes the music, and his wife Rennie writes the lyrics. Together, they create dystopian portraits of murderous families, failed (and murderous) love affairs, despondent and hopeless humanity, and restless spirits. But these dark and dreary tales are usually packaged in a wash of purdy banjo plucks and guitar trills. Some songs are more somber, but most sound like cheerful jaunts in the park, until you listen more closely to the sinister and snickering lyrics.

Several years ago, when it seemed that music writers were coining a new term for "alternative" country every ten seconds (remember "y'allternative"?), The Handsome Family were turning out album after album of wry, intelligent, beautiful music that defied cutesy labels. They're still at it, mixing earnest country and roiling punk rock in ways that elicit both grins and grimaces.

In 2001, the duo left Chicago for the sunnier climes of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they've continued to perfect their lyrical brand of classic-meets-avant country. Their new location hasn't changed their dark worldview much, though they have incorporated a bit of the desert twang and "Americachi" influences one associates with the Southwest into their already rich sonic palette.

"Set in a shadowy netherworld, Twilight reasserts the Handsome Family's position as modern-day descendants of the ancient country-folk surrealists gathered on Harry Smith's celebrated Anthology of American Folk Music. Rennie Sparks's songs are filled with animals ("Birds You Cannot See" and "White Dog") and natural images that are both carefree ("Peace in the Valley Once Again") and unnerving ("Snow White Diner"). The lyrics masterfully blend compassionate insight and a real sense of drama and tragedy with an eye for detail and humorous asides. Brett's vocal croon and his background in both experimental avant-garde and Texas rockabilly insures that the duo's music continues to grow far beyond its country roots. The Handsome Family happily flout convention but their stark beauty still shines through--these are some of the strangest and most compelling songs in the warped but wonderful world of alternative country."

Gavin Martin

01. The Snow White Diner
02. Passenger Pigeons
03. A Dark Eye
04. There Is A Sound
05. All The Tvs In Town
06. Gravity
07. Cold, Cold, Cold
08. No One Fell Asleep Alone
09. I Know You Are There
10. Birds You Cannot See
11. The White Dog
12. So Long
13. Peace In The Valley Once Again




Anonymous said...

thanx for posting this; i heard a lot of positive things about the band, but have yet to discover them. thanx! ubique

Anonymous said...

Thanks for expanding my horizon,
my soul in in joy! :-)

onlybizet said...

I learned about the Handsome Family almost ten years ago from a friend who played the electric violin. Yes, they are quite dark and creepy, but their "sound" is magical at the same time.

Thank you so much.


Anonymous said...

thank you, handsome family is really a great band!

Anonymous said...

thanks for this! I have finally been able to listen to them after so long. Great.

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