MOJO READERS VOTE THROUGH THE TREES ONE OF
THE MOST IMPORTANT AMERICANA CDS OF THE 1990s
Guardian, UK, names
"Weightless Again" one of the 100 essential songs about
"Here the alt-country husband and wife duo document the tragedy of a relationship that has cooled into mundanity, who travel from coffee shop to motel with no idea how to reignite the passion they once felt for one another. Yet both feel the heavy responsibility of their partnership, recalling that the first time they slept together "it felt like when you learned to float"- now our narrator observes "This is why people OD on pills/and jump from the Golden Gate Bridge/anything to feel weightless again" In mood, the song carries the same ominous gravity as a murder ballad, a dark country tale sung in the deepest, swampiest of voices, it conveys the desolation of love gone wrong"
The Handsome Family have obviously listened to the likes of Willie Nelson and Townes Van Zandt--and even deeper sources, such as The Carter Family--but they've taken this rich tradition a step farther....[They] fashion a post modern country sound that blends catchy melodies, deadpan vocals, waves of feedback, and surrealistic lyrics. Their music is both rootsy and thoroughly unhinged; as if the Velvet Underground had come of age in the Ozarks— Anthony DeCurtis, Men's Journal 9/96
While machine rhythms puttered and chirped, Brett Sparks sat on a wooden chair like a preacher in his black suit and round black glasses strumming a banjo and guitar. His wife, bassist and lyricist Rennie Sparks, cradled and stroked an autoharp---a stringed instrument heard frequently heard on ancient country records---as though it were an infant... Brett Sparks' baritone voice boomed with an authority that seemed larger than the room, and the music---deliberately paced and mesmerizing in its sad beauty--accrued power with each tale. A boy loses his twin sister to a snake bite, and now he is losing his mind. Rennie's sharp, detailed images resounded most mightily on ''My Ghost,'' in which her husband uses her words to recount his stay in a mental institution: a bath robe and slippers, nurses playing card games and the ties that bound him to a double bed. As Brett's voice rose and fell, Rennie closed her eyes, the music swallowing up both of them, and the audience with it— Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune, 2/3/98
...The thing that makes the Handsomes a family is the matching of rich, haunting lyrics to music that twists and turns from the prairie to the dilapidated high-rise. Over the course of their CDs...this Chicago trio bring a Duchampian bent to these plaintive mounds of faux-countrified Americana. With Brett Sparks' moody tenor and dignified taste in lap steel and dobro, the Family broods through a songbook that makes Leonard Cohen seem cheery. W.S. Burroughs meets Carson McCullers--that seems to be bassist/lyricists Rennie Sparks' forte—A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia City Paper, 7/96.
Because of the Sparks' fondness for the poetry and melodies of the American musical past and the way they work within the electrified indie rock social sphere, the Handsomes get lumped into the alternative country movement. This they distance themselves from, particularly the pressure to find a singular stylistic niche. Rennie says, "There is such a thing as American music, and it's very complicated. The more you look , the more complex it is. It's a continuum and we just put our bucket in there. When we play for some country fans they're dismayed. If you play one song that has a country train beat and then a waltz and then a song with distorted guitars, they yell, "Make up your mind!" —Sarah Vowell, San Francisco Weekly, 11/96.
The Handsome Family pushes the edge of the country envelope...One of the reasons I love the Handsome Family is that it challenges listeners to think about exactly what qualifies as country. On one level, the band reaches back to the music's earliest days, drawing inspiration from the plaintive yearning and soulful yodeling of the Carter Family, the Louvin Brothers and Jimmie Rodgers. On another level, it's making music for the new millennium...by utilizing a drum machine and beefing up their sound with ambitious instrumental backings—Jim Derogatis, Chicago Sun-Times, January 30, 1998
Lydia Lunch’s interview for Sex and Guts
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