The Handsome Family

Last updated
The Handsome Family
The Handsome Family.jpg
The Handsome Family performing live in 2008
Background information
Origin Chicago, Illinois, US
Genres Alternative country, americana, indie folk
Years active1993–present
Labels Loose, Carrot Top Records, Scout Releases
Website http://www.handsomefamily.com/
MembersBrett Sparks
Rennie Sparks
Past membersMike Werner

The Handsome Family is an alternative country and Americana duo consisting of husband and wife Brett and Rennie Sparks formed in Chicago, Illinois, and as of 2021 [1] based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They are perhaps best known for their song "Far from Any Road" from the album Singing Bones , which was used as the main title theme for the first season of the 2014 crime drama True Detective . The band's 10th album, Unseen , was released on September 16, 2016, the first new release on the band's own label Milk & Scissors Music [2] and through long-time label Loose in Europe.

Contents

History

Husband-and-wife duo Brett Sparks (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Rennie Sparks (bass, banjo, vocals) formed the band in 1993, along with drummer Mike Werner. The band would later revolve around Rennie, who writes the lyrics, and Brett, who writes the music. [3] Guest musicians complete the band line-up for recordings and live work. [4]

Regarding the band name, Brett said in an interview: "It's just kind of a stupid name. We used to have this really obnoxious drummer, and he used to call me 'Handsome', that was his nickname for me, I think for sarcastic reasons... And he wanted to call it the Handsome Family... and we thought it was funny, too. We thought it was a good name." [5]

Brett is originally from Odessa, Texas and Rennie from Long Island. [6] The band toured extensively throughout both America and Europe in support of early releases Odessa (1994) and Milk and Scissors (1996). [4] During that time, Brett suffered an emotional breakdown, resulting in his hospitalization and diagnosis of bipolar disorder. [6]

They wrote their third full-length album, Through the Trees , in the aftermath of these events, and included a song inspired by Brett's experiences in the psychiatric unit. [7] They recorded the album in 1998, using Jeff Tweedy's mobile studio, [4] and brought the band to a wider audience. UNCUT named it the "Best New Country Album of the Year". [6]

A growing following and raised profile allowed Brett and Rennie to give up their day jobs and work on the band full-time. They toured America and Europe again in support of the 2000 album In the Air . [6] That year, Rennie's book of short stories, Evil, was released by Chicago publisher Black Hole Press. [8] In 2001, they moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and released Twilight , with Allmusic opining that the album leads "the listener down a lovely yet dark trail few would dare tread twice". [9] In 2002, they released a live album, Live at Schuba's Tavern , a recording from the In the Air tour from Chicago in December 2000. [4] [6]

The duo appeared in the 2003 documentary Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus , [10] as well as the soundtrack album released two years later. [11]

They have subsequently released the albums Singing Bones (2003), Last Days of Wonder (2006), Honey Moon (2009), and Wilderness (2013) as well as the collections Smothered and Covered (2003) and Scattered (2010). [12] Their latest album, Unseen was released in September 2016. [13]

The track "Far from Any Road," from the album Singing Bones , was used as the main title theme song for HBO's 2014 crime drama True Detective by the show's music director, T Bone Burnett. The Sydney Morning Herald included season one's opening sequence in their list of the "Ten of the Best" title sequences on television. [14]

Their songs have been covered repeatedly by musician Andrew Bird, including a full-length album of covers released in 2014, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…

Musical style

The Handsome Family's style is a blend of traditional country, bluegrass, and murder ballads. [6] Early recordings have rock elements, but these were less evident from 1996's Milk and Scissors onwards. [6] The duo's penchant for a tongue-in-cheek, macabre approach to alt-country has been noted by many critics; Andy Fyfe of Mojo called them "Americana's ghostly Sonny & Cher." [15] A.V. Club reviewer Christopher Bahn described their music as "rootsy, literary country-rock that’s a little like a collaboration between Hank Williams and Edgar Allan Poe." [16]

Rennie's lyrics have a strong storytelling component, drawing on themes from Gothic fiction, as well as American folk music, and often involving macabre subjects as murders, suicides and ghosts. Some songs are also based on actual historical figures or events, including the lives and deaths of Amelia Earhart ("Amelia Earhart vs. the Dancing Bear", on Milk and Scissors ), Emily Shore ("Emily Shore 1819–1839", on Milk and Scissors), Robert Wadlow ("The Giant of Illinois", on Through the Trees ), Natalie Wood ("Natalie Wood", an outtake from Twilight , which appears on Smothered and Covered ), and Nikola Tesla ("Tesla's Hotel Room", on Last Days of Wonder ). The title of Last Days of Wonder is a reference to Puritan scientist and witch-hunter Cotton Mather's 1693 book Wonders of the Invisible World , which Rennie found intriguing because of what she called its "madness brimming under the surface of things." [17]

Discography

Albums

Compilations and Live albums

Singles

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<i>Odessa</i> (The Handsome Family album) 1994 debut album by the Handsome Family

Odessa is the first album by alternative country band The Handsome Family. It was released 1994 by Carrot Top Records.

<i>Milk and Scissors</i> 1996 album by the Handsome Family

Milk and Scissors is the second album by alternative country band the Handsome Family. It was released 1996 by Carrot Top Records, and by Scout Releases in the same year.

<i>Invisible Hands</i> (EP) 1997 EP by the Handsome Family

Invisible Hands is an EP released by alternative country band The Handsome Family. It was released 1997 as a limited Germany only, vinyl only release by Scout Releases. Only 1000 copies were pressed. The release contains an A4 lyrics sheet which states that "The House Carpenter" is a traditional, arranged by Brett Sparks. However "The House Carpenter" didn't make the record.

<i>Through the Trees</i> 1998 album by the Handsome Family

Through the Trees is the third full-length album released by alternative country duo The Handsome Family. It was released 1998 by Carrot Top Records / Loose Music (Europe).

<i>In the Air</i> (The Handsome Family album) 2000 album by the Handsome Family

In The Air is the fifth album released by alternative country band The Handsome Family. It was released in 2000 by Carrot Top Records / Loose Music (Europe) and comes as an enhanced audio CD with an additional video for the song "Amelia Earhart vs. The Dancing Bear," from Milk and Scissors.

<i>Twilight</i> (The Handsome Family album) 2001 album by the Handsome Family

Twilight is the sixth album released by alternative country band The Handsome Family. It was released 2001 by Carrot Top Records / Loose Music (Europe).

<i>Singing Bones</i> 2003 album by the Handsome Family

Singing Bones is the sixth studio album released by alternative country band The Handsome Family. It was released in 2003 by Carrot Top Records / Loose Music (Europe). It includes a cover of the folk song "Dry Bones," known from Bascom Lamar Lunsford's 1928 version on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. In 2014, the album received a resurgence of interest when the song "Far from Any Road" was used as the theme song for the first season of HBO's crime drama True Detective.

<i>Last Days of Wonder</i> 2006 album by the Handsome Family

Last Days Of Wonder is the seventh studio album released by alternative country band The Handsome Family. It was released 2006 by Carrot Top Records / Loose Music (Europe). The title is a reference to Puritan scientist and witch-hunter Cotton Mather's 1693 book Wonders of the Invisible World, which lyricist Rennie Sparks found intriguing because of what she called its "madness brimming under the surface of things."

<i>Honey Moon</i> (The Handsome Family album) 2009 album by the Handsome Family

Honey Moon is the eighth studio album released by alternative country band The Handsome Family. It was released 2009 by Carrot Top Records / Loose Music (Europe).

<i>Smothered and Covered</i> 2003 album by the Handsome Family

Smothered and Covered is a collection of outtakes, demos and rarities by the alternative country band The Handsome Family. It was released in 2003 by Handsome Family Music.

<i>Scattered</i> (album) 2010 album by the Handsome Family

Scattered is a second compilation of demos, outtakes and rarities by alternative country band The Handsome Family. It was released 2010 through Handsome Family Music and is the sequel to 2002's Smothered and Covered.

Whitey Morgan and the 78s

Whitey Morgan and the 78's are an American honky tonk country band, based in Flint, Michigan, United States. In 2010, they signed a recording contract with Chicago-based Bloodshot Records.

Loose Music

Loose is a British independent record label based in Ladbroke Grove, London.

<i>Unseen</i> (The Handsome Family album) 2016 album by the Handsome Family

Unseen is the tenth studio album by alternative country duo The Handsome Family. It was released in September 2016 by the band's own label Milk & Scissors Music, and Loose Music in Europe.

References

  1. http://www.handsomefamily.com/contactpage.html
  2. Ayers, Mike (2016-07-13). "Hear the Handsome Family's 'Gold' From Their Upcoming New Album 'Unseen' (Exclusive)". Wall Street Journal (Speakeasy blog). New York City. Retrieved 2016-07-14.
  3. Doole, Kerry. "For the Love of Handsome Family " Archived 2012-07-09 at Archive.today , Exclaim! , May 2010.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Strong, Martin C. (2003) "The Handsome Family", in The Great Indie Discography, Canongate, ISBN   1-84195-335-0.
  5. The Handsome Family, The Triste Interview. Triste.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Layne, Joslyn "The Handsome Family Biography", Allmusic , Macrovision Corporation
  7. Lyrics to "My Ghost", Handsome Family.
  8. Klein, Joshua (2002-03-29). "Review: Rennie Sparks: Evil". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2015-04-19.
  9. MacNeil, Jason "Twilight Review", Allmusic , Macrovision Corporation
  10. "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus". IMDb. 2014. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  11. Christopher Monger, James (2014). "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus". Allmusic. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  12. Arado, Matt (2013-05-10). "The Handsome Family: Wilderness". Popmatters.com. Retrieved 2014-02-23.
  13. Coberlake, Justin (2016-10-05). "The Handsome Family: Unseen". Popmatters.com. Retrieved 2017-08-05.
  14. Kalina, Paul (August 22, 2014). "How Patrick Clair won the Emmy for 90 seconds of True Detective". The Sydney Morning Herald . Fairfax Media. Archived from the original on November 5, 2015. Retrieved January 24, 2015.
  15. Fyfe, Andy (2016-09-16). "The Handsome Family: Unseen". Mojo .
  16. Bahn, Christopher (2013-05-14). "The Handsome Family: Wilderness". Avclub.com. Retrieved 2013-07-08.
  17. Bahn, Christopher (8 February 2006). "Interview: Brett and Rennie Sparks of The Handsome Family". A.V. Club. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  18. Vitali, Marc (November 7, 2019). "Chicago's Bloodshot Records Celebrates 25th Anniversary". WTTW . Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  19. "Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots". Bloodshot Records. 2019. Retrieved 2019-11-26.