The Handsome Family’s greatest gift lies in its tremendous talent for painting vivid, sometimes terrifying pictures with every word— NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIOAmid familiar fiddles and banjos, the Handsome Family's absorbing vision of decay and entropy is quietly unsettling, and makes most other modern roots music seem like child's play—MOTHER JONES
Words that in their everyday surrealism have no parallel in contemporary writing...Music that mines the deep veins of fatalism in the Appalachian voice
— GREIL MARCUS
As songwriters it’s the eerie, ancestral voice of ‘Anonymous’ they ultimately resemble the most —THE CHICAGO READER
This is music that moves forward by turning the clock back—
haunting, primal and strangely heroic—THE LONDON TIMES
Wilderness (2013)— Best Americana Albums of the Year — UNCUT
Through the Trees, (1998)— “Ten essential Americana records of all time” — MOJO
In the Air (2000) —“One of the most important records of the 21st century” — UNCUT
Last Days of Wonder (2006) — Top Ten Americana Albums of 2006— MOJO
“Weightless Again”— “100 best songs ever written about heartbreak”— The Guardian
Enter the dark forest of The Handsome Family. This is haunting and beautiful music— brilliant, emotionally-charged and totally unique. Maybe you just discovered them (like the 20 million + people who've watched the True Detective opening montage on youtube)? Maybe you’ve been following them for the last twenty years? Either way you’ll be happy to know that The Handsome Family are far more than just the band that wrote the song, “Far From Any Road” (True Detective's main title theme, season 1).
The Handsome Family is a 20-year songwriting collaboration between New Mexican husband and wife, Brett (music) and Rennie Sparks (words). Their lyrics and music are very intense, highly descriptive and full of meticulously-researched narrative and exhilarating musical re-imaginings of everything from Appalachian holler, psychedelic rock, Tin Pan Alley and medieval ballad. You don’t have to be a music historian to love these songs. This is music full of romantic longing for nature’s mysterious beauty and for the tiny wonders of everyday life. The Handsome Family are noted for pairing sweet melody with sad stories— juxtapositions that create strange resonances in your ears. This is music that makes you shiver and cry, but also makes you happy to be alive.
In September, 2016, the band is set to release its tenth record of new songs. The new record is entitled, “Unseen” and it consists of ten stories that live at the edge of the known world.
May, 2013 was the release of The Handsome Family’s Wilderness, a record about animals (frogs, flies, wildebeest, octopuses, lizards...), but in lyricist Rennie Sparks’ hands the wonders of nature were intertwined with true stories of Stephen Foster’s death in a Bowery flophouse, General Custer’s shiny boots as he lay dead on a Montana prairie and the capture of Mary Sweeney, the Wisconsin Window Smasher of 1896. Musically the record was a compendium of American sounds from parlor ballads to overdriven guitars and clawhammer banjo, but also intricate seven-part vocal harmonies.
The Handsome Family’s songs have been covered by many notable artists including Jeff Tweedy, Andrew Bird (who recorded an entire tribute record of Handsome Family songs), Amanda Palmer and Christy Moore. Their work has garnered praise from Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr. There are countless covers of their songs by amateur devotees all over youtube and they were honored to have Guns ’N Roses use, “Far From Any Road” as their entrance music for a South American tour.
The Handsome Family’s 2009 release, Honey Moon was an album of love songs, but the lovers found within those tracks were a praying mantis, a sleeping bird, a cement truck, and a puddle.
The previous record, Last Days of Wonder (2006), was a paean to beacons of the last century from polar explorers and Nikola Tesla to the first abandoned shopping carts and lone shoes thrown over telephone wires.
The band has appeared in the movie, I’m Your Man (2005), a tribute to Leonard Cohen as well as Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (2004), a back roads travelogue of arcane Americana music. They have appeared on numerous Irish TV shows as well as Jools' Hollands’ Later.
The Handsome Family record all their songs in a converted garage studio at the back of their house in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. Sometimes live they are a duo (Brett on guitar/vocals, Rennie on banjo/bass ukulele/vocals, sometimes accompanied by a drum machine), but often of late they are joined by percussionist Jason Toth.
A live review by Mike Ritchie in The Scotsman noted, “There’s a lot of smiling at this gig, on and off stage. That might surprise many people who have only read about the duo’s penchant for songs riddled with darkness, death and the macabre. But Rennie Sparks and her husband, Brett are funny live...through their chit-chat, the song introductions and the banter with the audience...this sell-out show was a knockabout celebration of the deadpan, a real joy... Rennie’s words plus Brett’s music and strong, mellow vocals create a magical potion of grim fairytales in a rock and blues pot with grinning unavoidable.”
When Brett isn’t on tour or recording he tinkers with an entire bathtub full of homemade telecasters. Rennie has a side career as a pet portrait painter. She calls herself an ‘animal expressionist’.
Honey Moon, 2009
Last Days of Wonder, 2006
Singing Bones, 2003
Live at Schuba's, 2002
Smothered and Covered, 2002
In the Air, 2000
Down in the Valley, 1999
Through the Trees, 1998
Milk and Scissors, 1996