Cult husband and wife duo The Handsome Family will release their 10th studio album ‘Unseen’ on 16 September on Loose. Available on 180g pond green vinyl, CD, download and stream.
The album, with its unique mix of country instrumentation and intriguing surrealist lyricism, explores the unseen stories, people and places of the American west, where The Handsome Family live – in Albuquerque, New Mexico. ‘Unseen’ shines a light on the obscure and forgotten.
The album’s first single, ‘Gold’ is released on Friday 15 July, available on Soundcloud now. The song is a modern classic murder ballad set against a backdrop of “wide empty streets, the air shaking with heat.” ‘Gold’ paints intense images of a protagonist, with snake tattoos, a ski mask, and gun shot wounds – all the result of feeling “hungry to do something mean”. The first track on the album – ‘Gold’ is the beginning of a journey taking the listener “past the last lights of town” – driving us into the unknown – a place familiar to The Handsome Family.
In 2015 Rennie and Brett Sparks saw their song ‘Far From Any Road’ about “fire ants on their drive way” picked by American actor Matthew McConaughey to be the theme tune to the HBO TV smash hit: “True Detective”.
Rennie Sparks describes an event that personified the band’s strange experience of being propelled into a surreal state of limbo by their post True Detective fame, when she miraculously disappeared in an airport. Rennie stated: “At the height of True Detective S1 excitement I disappeared one afternoon while waiting for a flight at O’Hare. A middle-aged businessman, McDonald’s bag in one hand, rolling-bag handle in the other — walked up to me and, without pause, turned and sat down on my lap. A second later his French fries and rolling bag were on the floor and he was sputtering apologies, insisting he’d seen an empty chair. This strange invisibility felt similar to the night Brett and I watched the series in our little house in Albuquerque, feeling oddly alone. I have learned to embrace my power to vanish. As a songwriter you have to be willing to disappear and let your songs outshine you in order to embrace points of view bigger than your own. It was great that a song written about ants in my driveway became a song about cops in Louisiana. That’s the best any songwriter can hope for. ”
And so Rennie happily remained invisible, even as the band became visible to millions, with Youtube counts for The Handsome Family’s ‘hit’ song climbing to twenty million and more. The song was in the top 10 in US and UK Spotify charts and spent months in the iTunes top 100 in countries as far-flung as Vietnam, South Africa, and the Ukraine.
‘Unseen’ continues The Handsome Family’s embrace of things beyond easy view: the slow dive of the sun, enormous bugs awakening in thorny yards, sirens and coyotes that cry out to the purple sky. ‘Unseen’, an epic western gothic masterpiece, draws from real life events. ‘Gold’ began when a bunch of twenty-dollar bills blew in Brett’s face in a parking-lot dust storm. ‘Gentlemen’, is a tribute to William Crookes who built the first vacuum tube in 1875, hoping to detect spirits from unseen dimensions. Many tracks fix around the idea that light that emanates from things we can’t see — behind “The Red Door,” in the empty hands of blackjack losers (“The Silver Light”), and amidst desert bones bleaching in the sun (“King of Dust”).
‘Unseen’ was recorded by Brett at his home studio at night – “with only hawk moths listening”. It features a rich tapestry of instrumentation, which conjures images of the magical landscape of the Sparks’ New Mexico surroundings. David Gutierrez plays mandolin on “Tiny Tina” and dobro on “The Silver Light.” Alex MacMahon: guitar on “The Silver Light,” baritone guitar and pedal steel on “Gold.” Jason Toth: drums throughout (except “Green Willow Valley”). Rennie wrote all the lyrics. She sang and played banjo and autoharp, but “didn’t bother to write down on which songs.”
The Sparks have released 10 albums since 1995’s Odessa. Their songs have been covered by countless Youtubers and well-known artists like Jeff Tweedy, Amanda Palmer, Cerys Matthews, Christy Moore and Andrew Bird (who released an entire record of HF covers). Guns ’N’ Roses used, “Far From Any Road” as stage entrance music for a South American tour, and both Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr are fans. Decades into their careers, after winning the TV theme tune jackpot — the Sparks still find their greatest reward in disappearing into new songs.
Unseen, the new album from The Handsome Family, will be released 16th September on Loose. Available on 180g pond green vinyl, CD and download.
The new The Devil Makes Three album, Redemption and Ruin is out the end of August in the UK on New West and features guest appearances from Emmylou Harris, Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, Darrell Scott & Duane Eddy on it too!
Fresh from selling out Red Rock in the US, they play UK shows later this week
This is the first single
July 15 – London, UK @ Garage
July 16 – Manchester, UK @ The Deaf Institute
July 17 – Glasgow, UK @ King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut
July 18 – Dublin, IE Whelans
Rockingham is the solo debut album from American Aquarium frontman BJ Barham, the album takes it title from the North Carolina county where he was born and spent his formative years, despite the title the album is not an autobiographical affair, with the exception of one track Madeline written for his daughter, instead Barhams fictional characters and stories reflect and take inspiration from his hometown.
“This is the first record I’ve ever made that’s not autobiographical—it’s fictional narrative in a very real place,” Barham says. “These songs are human condition stories set in my hometown, Reidsville.”
The video for the title track is set in Barhams hometown Reidsville, and included shots of his parents’ front porch and a tobacco barn where he worked as a teenager.
Adopting troubadour mode and drawing back from the rock ‘n’ roll roots music of American Aquarium the album inception was borne of an experience while touring with the alt-country band in Europe, the band were playing in Belgium at the time of the awful tragedy in Paris on the Friday the 13 of November, when gunmen and suicide bombers ran riot in the city leaving 130 people dead and many more injured and scarred physically and mentally for life.
“The onslaught of text messages, voicemails and everything that came in the next day sparked something in me,” Barham remembers. “In the next two days, the entire record was written.”
On his return to the US Barham kept the momentum of the album going and teamed up with the co-producer of American Aquarium’s album Wolves Bradley Cook, Cook’s brother Phil, Kyle Keegan and American Aquarium’s Ryan Johnson and Whit Wright to rehearse and record the album in just over a week at Durham NC Overdub Lane.
BJ Barham – Road To Nowhere
I like this album, like it a lot, of it’s type I’m struggling to recall an album as good as this one, though I have one reservation, because I love American Aquarium too and I’m hoping Barham has no need to choose between solo and band recordings only anytime soon.
If you’d like to hear songs from the album up close and personal BJ is in the UK this month and has these dates lined-up:
16-Jul Truck Festival, Oxford
18-Jul The Bicycle Shop, Norwich
19-Jul The Albert, Brighton
20-Jul Gullivers, Manchester
21-Jul The Chattery, Swansea
22-Jul The Borderline, London
The album was funded through a successful Pledge campaign and will be released in the UK by At The Helm Records on July the 22nd coinciding with the London show,
“This is just an outlet for a songwriter. It’s me being able to do something different. This is like people who love their jobs, picking up hobbies,” says Barham, “This is an exercise for myself.”
Beat Surrender favorite and an artist with a story to tell…….
Sat 2 Easton, Suffolk Maverick Festival
Sun 3 Easton, Suffolk Maverick Festival
Sun 3 Leicester The Musician with Edwina Hayes
Mon 4 Tunbridge Wells The Grey Lady
Wed 6 London What’s Cookin’, Leytonstone Ex-Servicemens Club
Sat 9 Youlgreave, Derbyshire he Bulls Head Hotel
Sun 10 Troutbeck, Cumbria The Mortal Man Cider & Music Festival
Wed 13 Bedford The Curfew Club
Thu 14 Corby The Hut
Fri 15 Whitby The Station Inn
Sat 16 Pocklington,Platform Festival
Sun 17 York, City Screen
Mon 18 Leeds Gaslight Club, Oporto Bar
Thu 21 Edinburgh The Voodoo Rooms
Sun 24 Gateshead SummerTyne Americana Festival
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East Nashville’s Wild Ponies are in the UK in June and July in support of their new album Radiant which is set for release on June the 24th.
Thu 16 Menai Bridge, Anglesey The Victoria Hotel
Fri 17 Scarborough The Crescent Hotel
Sun 19 Beverley Beverley Folk Festival
Mon 20 Beverley Deli No. 1
Wed 22 Launceston Café No. 8
Thu 23 Plymouth The B-Bar
Sat 25 Lewes The Con Club
Sun 26 Crawley Folk & Beer Festival
Sun 26 East Grinstead The Dorset Arms
Wed 29 Sheffield The Greystones
Thu 30 Stroud The Prince Albert
Fri 1 London The Slaughtered Lamb
Sat 2-Sun 3 Easton, Suffolk Maverick Festival 2016
Wild Ponies / Facebook / Twitter