The Handsome Family – Wilderness

The Handsome Family Wilderness

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

Handsome Family

Lucero – Women & Work

Lucero’s wonderful Women & Work we be available soon in the UK from Beat Surrender favourites Loose Music and the band are over this side of the pond on their  ‘Tennessee Takeover’ European tour from November 19th, the dates are below but selling out already so get in there if you want to see one of the best live bands around.

Women & Work is a love letter from Lucero to their hometown, Memphis, Tennessee. “Having a band in Memphis puts you in a tradition”, says Lucero frontman Ben Nichols. “We started at punk rock shows, not necessarily playing punk rock, but coming from the outside, from a bohemian place.”

The bohemian tradition is just as strong in Memphis as the city’s series of international hits. The popularity of Sun, Stax, Elvis, and Al Green doesn’t diminish the influence of the blues, Jim Dickinson, and Alex Chilton. The bridge between the shadows and the spotlight has become the heart of Lucero. Unafraid to mix pop with their anti-pop, they always charge into new territory. As punks, Lucero were masters of restraint, with country music beer stains dribbled down the front of their shirts. As whiskey-soaked bohemians, they didn’t shy from sweeping Americana tableaus. And then they added an accordion. “When we started, we were building on a foundation we weren’t aware of”, says guitarist Brian Venable. “Listening back to our early stuff, we hear ourselves reference the old Sun Records. We didn’t hear it or feel it then, but we hear it and feel it now.”

Women & Work, their 8th album, is such an exciting presentation of the band’s eclectic explorations that it makes their 14-year meandering path appear to be a straight line to this very record. “We’re more comfortable in our own skin as a band, more comfortable acknowledging regional influences”, says bassist John Stubblefield. “We wound up making a Memphis country soul record.” Integrating horns, pedal steel guitar, all manner of keyboards, and even a full-on gospel chorus, Women & Work is a fully realized musical extravaganza. Drawing inspiration from Delaney & Bonnie’s obscure first album, Home, on the Stax label, Lucero’s ambivalence about tradition has been replaced by an exuberant embrace.

“On My Way Downtown”, the album’s lead song, tells the story – a reserved guitar riff sets the mood, a couple of instruments quietly fall in and Ben adds the first contemplative vocals. The song seems headed firmly into the punk-rock-made-pretty territory of their roots, until the organ sustains a chord, the tempo ratchets up, and Lucero becomes a band that doesn’t ask but rather insists that you move your feet.  “Go Easy” is something new for the band: gospel music. A sing-along with a large female chorus, it’s more likely to close the bar than open the church, but when returning producer Ted Hutt (Gaslight Anthem) pushed the band toward a sacred sound, they realized it could significantly add to the album’s country soul feel.

The band remains a solid unit, even as it changes. Lucero began broadening its sound in 2005 when they brought in Rick Steff—man of the keys (piano, organ, and accordion). in 2007, they expanded again with the addition of pedal steel whiz Todd Beene, and then again more recently with Memphis’s funkiest horn section—Jim Spake and Scott Thompson (Al Green, Cat Power).

Lucero keeps on pushing. For most of the past decade, the band has averaged almost two out of every three nights on the road, steady-building their fan base. As different as Lucero may sound from their early days, this record also takes them full circle. “When we began,” says drummer Roy Berry, “we were known for how restrained we played. Our sound got bigger over the years, but the larger ensemble is making the core band sparse like we used to be—the songs just have more layers.”


Lucero – Sometimes

19/11 – COLOGNE, Underground
20/11 – BERLIN, Comet Club
21/11 – AMSTERDAM, Paradiso
22/11 – TUNBRIDGE WELLS, Forum
23/11 – MANCHESTER, Night & Day
24/11 – EDINBURGH, Bannermans
26/11 – NEWCASTLE, Cluny 2
27/11 – BRISTOL, Fleece
28/11 – LONDON, Windmill
29/11 – LONDON, Windmill
30/11 – LONDON, Windmill
01/12 – LONDON, Windmill (SOLD OUT)

Hurray for the Riff Raff – Look Out Mama

Update: News from the folks at Loose Music – the album makes it’s UK début on August 20th

Beat Surrender favourites Hurray for the Riff Raff have released a great new album on their own label Born to Win in the US with funding via a successful Kickstarter campaign for the UK label the purveyors of the finest Americana Loose Records will release the album later this year. The album was recorded in Nashville and produced by Andrija Tokic who had a had in the much hyped Alabama Shakes album, Look Out Mama is the bands third / fourth album (for the explanation) and is little more polished but every bit as convincing as their previous output – Alynda Lee Segarra vocals are once again beguiling, I’ll try to keep you posted on the UK release in the meantime here’s the title track and a favourite from the album.

Hurray For The Riff Raff – Look Out Mama

Hurray For The Riff Raff – Lake Of Fire

Shake, rattle, roll

Taken from the album Divine Providence.

Out on Loose Music 2nd April 2012, available as Download, LP, CD or Limited Edition CD with bonus 5 track Tim EP. Pre-order the CD or better still the vinyl.

Deer Tick – Let’s All Go To The Bar by Loose Music

More vinyl in the form of a 7″ Single release from The Great American Canyon Band – an atmospheric offering of America, for a copy of the limited edition single order at Bandcamp.

Tumbleweed by thegacb

First teaser track from Kelly Hogan’s upcoming Anti release I Like To Keep Myself In Pain out June 5th, pre-order at the Anti store

Kelly Hogan – We Can’t Have Nice Things by antirecords

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