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Singing Bones

The Handsome Family

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Album Review

The Handsome Family's unique take on traditionalist country finds another fine platform on 2003's Singing Bones. Husband-and-wife team Brett and Rennie Sparks explore dusty, melancholic territory — both musically and lyrically — by combining a taste for rootsy, old-school country (for which Brett's resonant baritone is perfectly suited) with literate, evocative, image-rich lyrics. Singing Bones finds all these qualities in place. Scenes and characters float through vividly drawn settings ("24-Hour Store," "Whitehaven"), while the instrumentation, arrangements, and ambience conjure dark forests and backwoods ghosts. As old-world as the Handsome Family might seem, there is an incisive, contemporary sensibility to everything, from the gleaming production to the perfectly chosen words. Singing Bones once again proves again how the group can seamlessly bridge the gap between present and past.

Customer Reviews

Appalachian Gothic

These folk-songs from the deep black back country behind the trailer park tell mini-sagas of death, depravity, and other dire doings, sung by the gaunt baritone of Johnny Cash's ghost. A voyage through a ghost-ridden, dream-daubed landscape is promised from the get-go, by the first line of the first song, "The Forgotten Lake": "Come with me to the forgotten lake / Where covered wagons and the wings of missing planes / Float between black fish underneath the velvet waves / Strange lights fly across the rocky beach / Girls in white nightgowns wander barefoot in their sleep / And the veins of dreams wind in circles round their feet."

All the songs on this album boast a characteristic surealist imagery (written by Rennie Sparks), backed by slide guitar, banjo, horns, jazz kit, and acoustic guitar. Some of the songs have a rousing men's choir (actually baritone Brett Sparks' voice multi-tracked) singing in favor of a world frozen in ice. My favorite songs are "The Bottomless Hole," about a man who discovers a sinkhole behind his trailer and decides to plumb its depth, finding his apotheosis there; and "Far From Any Road," a mid-tempo Latin number that Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra would be proud to cover in Heaven.

If you like the Silver John stories of Manley Wade Wellman ("The Bottomless Hole" definitely owes a debt to his collection "Who's Afraid Of The Devil?"), then you will love the Handsome Family.

Magic

This is so fresh and different...dark but not melancholy...I have listened for hours this summer lying out in the sun. Great chill music.

Biography

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...
Full Bio
Singing Bones, The Handsome Family
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