Folk Bands and Artists
The Handsome Family
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Enter the dark forest of The Handsome Family. This is haunting and beautiful music— brilliant, emotionally-charged and totally unique. May, 2013 brought the release of The Handsome Family’s Wilderness, a record about animals (frogs, flies, wildebeest, octopuses, lizards...), but in lyricist Rennie Sparks’ hands the wonders of nature are intertwined with true stories of Stephen Foster’s death in a Bowery flophouse, General Custer’s shiny boots as he lay dead on a Montana prairie and the capture of Mary Sweeney, the Wisconsin Window Smasher of 1896. There are also tall tales of the octopus’s hypnotic sea-dance, the frenzied mayhem of a town afflicted by a golden lizard’s bite and an enormous mansion full of screeching owls. Musically you’ll hear everything from parlor ballads to overdriven guitars, trilling mandolin and clawhammer banjo, but also beautiful bells, intricate seven-part harmonies, pedal steel and elemental rock ’n roll.
The Handsome Family is a 20-year songwriting collaboration between husband and wife, Brett (music) and Rennie Sparks (words). Their lyrics and music are very intense, highly descriptive and full of meticulously-researched narrative and exhilerating musical re-imaginings of everything from Appalacian holler, psychedelic rock, Tin Pan Alley and medieval ballad. Of course you don’t have to be a music historian to love these songs. They are full of romantic longing for nature’s mysterious beauty and the tiny wonders of everyday life. They pair sweet melody with sad harmony, love poetry with dark beats. This is music that makes you shiver and cry, but also makes you happy to be alive.
Wilderness, the CD has a companion release in a book also entitled Wilderness which contains essays and art by Rennie Sparks. The book expands and intertwines the ideas of the CD, making you consider anew everything from ant spirals and woodpecker tongues to the immortal jellyfish and the secret language of crows. The black and white version of the book will be published by The Handsome Family while Carrot Top Records will be releasing a deluxe box set of Wilderness which includes a full-color, fine-art version of the book, the LP and also a poster and postcards featuring Rennie Sparks’ colorful animal imagery.
The Handsome Family’s music and lyricism has always attracted intellectual and devoted fans. Their songs are frequently covered by many notable artists including Jeff Tweedy, Andrew Bird, Kelly Hogan and Christy Moore. Their work has garnered praise from Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, and an unnamed singer on American Idol.