It is of course only my humble opinion but if Americana had to crown a genre King and Queen then surely it would be Brett & Rennie Sparks, my first encounter with their regal music was on the 1998 Uncut compilation CD Sounds of the New West – The Best of Alternative Country - they left an indelible musical imprint with their track Weightless Again along with a number of other contributors to that CD including Hazeldine, Calexico and the late great Vic Chesnutt,
The Handsome Family have built a formidable back catalogue over the last twenty years and on this their fourteenth release Wilderness they continue to create music that challenges, provokes thought and rewards in equal measure and carries the listener on an journey into their otherworldliness – their music has an almost hypnotic quality that deftly takes a hold and draws the listener into the meticulously created songs they’ve crafted.
On this album all of the tracks titles are drawn from the animal kingdom and the musical expedition takes us on a alternate trip into natural world personified by the first track Flies which opens the door into an world deformed by humans and exploited by animals into which The Handsome Family weave threads of Custer’s last stand, Grizzlies, Wal-Mart, Hairspray, Cowboy Shirts, Guns and Finches.
As for my favourite track from the album then it’s the wonderful Frogs, I’ll let Rennie tell the story.
Further zoological vignettes include Eels,through which I’ve learnt that it was once thought ,bizarrely that Swallows wintered underwater, and the fact that the subject of the track Octopi have, apparently three hearts. There are further sojourns into the human world too, on Wildebeest the man known as the “father of American music” Stephen Foster is name-checked alongside dreaming crocodiles and on another album highlight Woodpecker the tale of Mary Sweeney is told by Rennie & Brett over a simple folk melody – it all works wonderfully well.
The album was recorded partly in their favoured home-studio, a converted garage in Albuquerque and at the Wilco Loft in Chicago and is available on CD and Vinyl from the Loose Music shop in the UK (who were kind enough to provide the album to me) and from Carrot Top Records in the US who also have a deluxe box-set version available that includes a vinyl copy of Wilderness a 72-page, 12”x12” full-color edition of the book along with an 11”x17” color poster and a six-postcard set, all with original art by Rennie, a black and white edition of the book will be available separately and you can pre-order the album now by clicking on the embedded record label links.
Catch them live in the UK during May.
16 May – LIVERPOOL, Kazimier
17 May – MANCHESTER, Ruby Lounge
18 May – GLASGOW, The Arches
19 May – GATESHEAD, Old Town Hall
21 May – SHEFFIELD, Greystones
22 May – LEEDS, Brudenell Social Club
24 May – KIRBYMOORSIDE, The Band Room
25 May – HEBDEN BRIDGE, The Trades Club
26 May – LEICESTER, The Musician
28 May – NORWICH, Arts Centre
29 May – LONDON, Islington Assembly Hall
30 May – BRISTOL, The Fleece
31 May – OXFORD, The Bullingdon