2006 release, the seventh studio album from the Alt-Country/Americana outfit. The Handsome Family were formed in 1993 by husband and wife duo Brett Sparks and Rennie Sparks. The band, born and bred in Chicago before migrating to Albuquerque, play a unique blend of traditional Country, Bluegrass, and murder ballads. Rennie's lyrics have a strong storytelling component, drawing on themes from Gothic fiction, as well as American folk music, and often involving macabre subjects as murders, suicides and ghosts. The album features musical assistance from David Coutler, Stephen Dorocke, David Gutierrez, Eric Johnson and Amanda Kooser.
Beginning with an image of cosmic apocalypse and ending with a cosmic joke about going nowhere (yet always having somewhere else to be), Brett and Rennie Sparks use their first album in three years, and their most beautiful and accessible since Through the Trees
, to explore the magical and disturbing intersections between the human, natural, and spiritual worlds. Recorded at home in Albuquerque, the album unfolds like a country-folk operetta (mostly composed by Rennie) set in idyllic and mysterious locales: haunted suburbia, peaceful but slightly malevolent strip malls, confession-inspiring bowling alleys, and lovesick airports. When they move to the exotic location of a shipwrecked island on "After We Shot the Grizzly," they borrow from Bob Dylan's cryptic "Isis," and make the random, mythic violence their own. Small moments of ennui, whether feeding pigeons in New York or watching kids paint graffiti, reveal unpredictable and unsettling dreams, and the delicate Americana instrumentation only sounds quaint on the surface. French horns, droning bass notes, clippity-clop drums, pedal steel (from Stephen Dorocke of Freakwater), and musical saw (from David Coulter, who has worked with Tom Waits) give even the most macabre songs--not to mention Brett Sparks' Johnny-Cash-on-Thorazine vocals--a light, playful air of discovery and wonder. --Roy Kasten