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Through the Trees

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Album Review

Through the Trees was the Handsome Family's breakthrough album, garnering enough attention and sales that they were finally able to quit their day jobs and focus on music full-time. The group subsequently toured the U.S. and Europe, while critics on both sides of the Atlantic went nuts for the Sparks' clever, brooding songs. With Through the Trees, the transitional phase heard on Milk and Scissors was complete and the duo emerged with a more defined style, delivery, and songcraft which became their trademark sound. Brett sings with a deeper resonance and phrases Rennie's mini-stories more skillfully, while the occasional distorted guitar and harder-rocking tunes have been trimmed away, leaving a more consistent, stripped-down country feel. This album includes Rennie's vocal debut (albeit in a self-conscious, exaggerated nasal twang) on "Down in the Ground"; "Cathedrals," a song originally heard on their limited-edition vinyl EP Invisible Hands (Carrot Top, 1997); and enduring crowd favorites "The Woman Downstairs" and "Weightless Again." It also includes guest Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. While the albums that followed were excellent, Through the Trees remains the Handsome Family's definitive album, and is a wonderful encapsulation of the myths and heartbroken tales that populate the dark, romantic world of Brett and Rennie Sparks.


Formed: Chicago, IL

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Husband-and-wife duo the Handsome Family has been labeled both alt-country and traditionalist, but truthfully their often-dark music lies in a unique space somewhere in between, blending the sounds of traditional country and bluegrass (and, especially, murder ballads) into a more modern scenery. Vocalist and composer Brett Sparks hails from Texas, where he studied music and briefly worked around the oil rigs. By the mid-'90s, he resided in Chicago with his wife Rennie Sparks, a fiction writer originally...
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Through the Trees, The Handsome Family
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