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.
For the past 30 years Michael Weston King has toured the world as a musician, singer and songwriter. From back street Bootle bars to Las Vegas stages, from folk clubs in Hong Kong to protest festivals in Berlin, Texan honky tonks to Italian opera houses, his songs have taken him to places he would never have imagined going to, and some he wished he hadn’t.
Through his work and travel he has met and collaborated with some of the leading lights in music, literature and theatre of the past 40 years. He has never been a diary keeper – a look back over 20 years of his diaries just shows a series of notes, things to do, gigs to play, places to be but also always lyrics. His songs are his diary.
The one constant throughout his adult years have been the songs, that have documented his journey, his travels, his life. Always a note book in hand, or a Dictaphone inside his jacket pocket, a wallet full of receipts and train tickets with scrawls on, fag packets full of scribbles, ideas and lines that maybe are the start of a new song.
100,000 Words is the story so far, a songwriter’s life’s work, MWK’s first ever collection of lyrics. Each song is individually introduced giving the background story behind it, not an explanation – we need to let the mystery be – but what inspired it to be written, why it was written, what was the influence. For the guitars players amongst you, each song also includes chords and tunings while the main opening introduction to the book is a personal insight into his career as a singer, songwriter, collaborator, working musician and world traveled troubadour.
Here are just some of the people Michael has collaborated with; Townes Van Zandt, Chris Hillman, Herb Pedersen, Jackie Leven, Ron Sexsmith, John Doe, Peter Case, Graham Parker, Kinky Friedman, Ian McNabb, Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham, David Morrissey, Carolyn Hester, Andy White, Rab Noakes, Eric Taylor, Tom Ovans, Mick Thomas, Steve Wynn.
Spending the vast majority of his adult life on the road has seen him tour and perform with Nick Cave, John Cale, Roger McGuinn, Steve Earle, Nick Lowe, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Nils Lofgren, Arlo Guthrie, America, Steve Forbert, Joe Ely, Giant Sand, Los Lobos, Son Volt, Janis Ian, Terry Allen, Joe Henry, Blue Rodeo, Maria McKee, Boo Hewerdine, Johnny Dowd, The Handsome Family, Susanne Sondfor, Mark Olsen, among many others.
Having seen the likes of good friends and great artists such as Townes Van Zandt, and Jackie Leven leave us before a book containing all their collected writings came to pass, MWK sets out to ensure his life time as ‘a slave to the song’ does not go unrecorded by presenting this, his first ever complete collection of lyrics.
The Handsome Family have taken on the prestigious task of providing the theme song to HBO’s big new drama series, True Detective. Their 2003-released track, Far From Any Road, taken the album Singing Bones, was hand-picked for the role by Oscar-winning producer T Bone Burnett.
The band will be visiting Europe in April & May, taking in shows in Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, UK & Ireland. The band described by Greil Marcus as “the Beatles of the folk world”, will be touring in support of their critically acclaimed 9th studio album, “Wilderness” .
26 Apr STOCKHOLM, Stacken
27 Apr GOTHENBURG, Pustervik
28 Apr AARHUS, Radar
29 Apr COPENHAGEN, Musikcaféen
30 Apr AMSTERDAM, Paradiso
01 May DEVENTER, Burgerweeshuis
02 May HENGELO, Metropoolcafe
03 May DEN HAAG, Paard Von Troje
05 May BELFAST, Black Box
07 May CORK, Crane Lane Theatre
09 May MANCHESTER, Deaf Institute
10 May HEBDEN BRIDGE, Trades Club
11 May SWANSEA, The Garage
12 May BRIGHTON, Komedia
14 May LONDON, 100 Club
16 May NEWBURY, Arlington Arts Centre
It’s that time of year again to try and break down this years favourites into some kind of order, truth be told the #1 choice was the easiest I’ve had to make in recent years, separating #2 through #5 was a little more difficult – they are all great albums, stylistically very different but all have outstanding songs, from #6 onwards the degree of separation reduces and to be honest if I sat down with the final list next week the order could shift significantly, in the tradition of never doing it exactly the same way year-on-year this time around I’ve gone for a more straight forward chart and the number 33 seemed an appropriate choice given the top ten all found their way into my collection on vinyl (no doubt this influenced the final choices). Having already seen a number of fellow bloggers best of’s it evident there are some big name Americana acts missing from the Beat Surrender run down, as ever too much music and not enough time.
1. Jason Isbell – Southeastern
2. Camera Obscura – Desire Lines
3. Danny & The Champions of the World – Stay True
4. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
5. Caitlin Rose – The Stand In
6. Lindi Ortega – Tin Star
7. Holly Williams – The Highway
8. Sturgill Simpson = High Top Mountain
9. My Darling Clementine – The Reconciliation
10. Austin Lucas – Stay Reckless
11. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart
12. Chris T-T & The Hoodrats – The Bear
13. Phosphorescent – Muchacho
14. John Moreland – In the Throes
15. Frankie & The Heartstrings – The Days Run Away
16. Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo – Dear River
17. Star Anna – Go To Hell
18. Thee Spivs – The Crowds & The Sounds
19. Doc Feldman & the LD50 – Sundowning At The Station
20. Israel Nash Gripka – Rain Plans
21. Shona Tucker – A Tell All
22. The Lucky Strikes – The Exile & The Sea
23. Laura Cantrell – No Way Here From There
24. Possessed by Paul James -There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely
25. Amanda Shires – Down Fell The Doves
26. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse
27. MG Boulter – The Water Or The Wave
28 Annie Keating – For Keeps
29. The Handsome Family – Wilderness
30. Paper Aeroplanes – Little Letters
31. Wynntown Marshalls – The Long Haul
32. Slaid Cleaves – Still Fighting The War
33. Lloyd Cole – Standards