They’re a husbandandwife alt-country duo with a touch of the bizarre. Brett Sparks does the music writing as well as contributing baritone vocals, guitar and keys and Rennie Sparks composes the lyrics and does bass, banjo and vocals. Originally formed in Chicago, Illinois they now live in Albuquerque, New Mexico and they’ve been together for an impressive 26 years and counting. The Handsome Family’s style comes across as eerie and beautiful and impresses with a distillation of bluegrass, country, epic western gothic and writing that excels with a strong storytelling drift. A drift that in their nice’n’easy, warm, harmonious ways turns deliciously deceptive because it reaches way out there to conjure up subjects like murder, suicide, ghosts and the macabre, deploying a generous injection of black humor. For example, one song from the album «Through the Trees» was inspired by Brett’s stay at a mental health facility. Sometimes their themes have referenced actual historical figures like Amelia Erhardt, Nikola Tesla or Cotton Mathers and his 1639 book «Wonders of the Invisible World» which Rennie found irresistible because of its «madness brimming under the surface of things».
Clearly audible on the surface but totally unexpected was their 2014 hit «Far from any Road« from the album «Singing Bones» (we told you…) which became the theme song for the HBO series «True Detective» and which catapulted them into the blinding limelight of worldwide fame. Not overly impressed by that they’ve kept things in the family. The two, often with invited guests, keep recording at home in their garage and are releasing their work on their own label, Loose Music. Their newest and 10th is «Unseen». It includes the New Mexico dusty, twangy song «Gold» where after a failed robbery, the protagonist «woke up in a ditch behind the Stop n’ Go, lying in the weeds with a bullet in my gut, watching dollar bills fly away in the dust, bleeding out past the last lights of town.»
The Handsome Family, live at El Lokal. Where there’s madness under the surface but nice’n’easy does it, kind of.