Handsome Family Record Reviews from Mojo Magazine

In The Air

Superb: from sweetly mournful opener Don't Be Scared, its floaty backing vocals and happy-sad lyrics evoking a dreamy, childlike nostalgia, to swaying murder-ballad closer My Beautiful Bride. Just as Through The Trees purported to be about camping but was so much more, In The Air embraces not just sky, snow and birds plus earthy matters such as the ground-dweller's ambiguous relationship with nature (birds that carry you off, water that invites you to drown) and the ethereal (specifically love, which invariably ends in death). A man murders his bride because he loves her too much; one kills his brother; a deluded milkman in love with the moon climbs onto the roof, trapped between indifferent nature above and mocking, brick-wielding people below. The innocent, jaunty, sorrowful, beautifully-played music is always a perfect counterpart. Reviewed by Sylvie Simmons

Down In The Valley 1999

Brett and Rennie Sparks have spent so much time touring Britain this past year, there's hardly been a moment to get back home to Chicago and ready their bathroom-cum-recording studio for another album. Hence this tide-'em-over collection which, if it were a just and perfect world (ie one where the workmen's radio next door wasn't blasting Shelby Lynne) would be titled 'The Handsomes' Greatest Hits'. Two songs from 1994 debut Odessa, six from '96's Milk And Scissors, five from last year's superb Through The Trees, plus one - the poignant Don't Be Scared - from their album-to-be, and not one of them is less than marvellous. Several sound like Johnny Cash French-kissing Tindersticks in an Edgar Allen Poe story, others like a Stetsoned David Lynch penning a spaghetti western soundtrack in an abandoned bar. This is a place where the only inevitables are death and the bottle. Dark, elemental, mischievous, beautiful gothic country.
Reviewed by Sylvie Simmons

Handsome Family Through The Trees 1998

Third album from Brett and Rennie Sparks, a US husband and wife team creating a gothic take on alternative country.

Neo-country? New country? Hell, this is old country, before the bland pin-up boys in stetsons took it over. These are dark, bitter tales of death, drink, love and loss set to Ghostriders In The Sky-type melodies, and sung by what sounds like an unnatural union between Murder Ballads-era Nick Cave and Johnny Cash. Stern, mournful and more than a little scary, they read like American gothic short stories, a new breed of urban-and-western myths. Recorded in various living rooms on equipment borrowed from Wilco's Jeff Tweedy - who contributes backing vocals and guitars - Through The Trees sees Mr and Mrs Sparks perform with dobros, banjos, autoharps, pianos, Melodicas and drum machines, though there's nothing lo-fi about their rich, dark sound. Highlights: the haunting opener, Weightless Again; My Sister's Tiny Hands, with its swampfrogs and coyotes; the country-revivalist Cathedrals; and Last Night I Went Out Walking, a song for waltzing after-hours in an empty bar. Reviewed by Sylvie Simmons