# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Handsome Family - Wilderness

  by Richard Lewis

published: 11 / 4 / 2013

Handsome Family - Wilderness
Label: Loose Music
Format: CD


Fabulous combination of Southern Gothic-inspired folk and country on tenth album from husband-and-wife duo, the Handsome Family

Comprising of husband and wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks, the Handsome Family have steadily become one of the most critically revered American bands of the past two decades. Hailed as "The Beatles of the folk world" by no less a luminary than Greil Marcus, ‘Wilderness’, the duo’s tenth album since their 1994 debut LP ‘Odessa’ continues their voyage into Southern Gothic-inspired folk and country terrain. Principal architects (along with Kurt Wagner of Lambchop) of what has become known as alt. country, the pair’s songs find their centre of gravity around Rennie’s exquisitely detailed lyrics and Brett’s deep, sonorous voice. Billed as "wild animals, tall tales and dark stories from American history", the tracks, backed by largely acoustic instrumentation, create the impression of mini-novellas set to music, each one a vignette soaked in the influence of myth, folklore and sepia-toned local history. Its titles all derived from animal names, opening cut ‘Flies’ tackles nature’s adaptation to encroaching human development, detailing the arrival of a Wal-Mart store as birds adapt to nest in the building’s roof. ‘Frogs', which comes second, shows off the couple’s vocal interplay, and is an epically slow lament that pads along softly on slide guitars and sparse drumbeats, thrown into sharp contrast by the piano-led chug of ‘Octopus’, the most Beatles-esque cut and the poppiest moment of the set. As proof of how far the couple have pushed the alt. country template, two tracks, the weeping lap steel of ‘Owls’ and ‘Spider’, shot through with mournful fiddle are the most straightforward country-inspired pieces on the collection, demonstrating how wide-ranging the sonic ground covered by the Handsome Family is. The dusky atmosphere of 'Caterpillars', led by refracted, liquid guitar lines , is one of richest narratives on an album stuffed full of them while ‘Glow Worm’ led by Brett’s resonant vocal evokes the snowy desolation of Edith Wharton’s ‘Ethan Frome’. ‘Lizard’, a deceptively upbeat tale of a small-town gone bad vies with ‘Woodpecker’ as the highpoints of the set, the latter an Appalachian duet recouting the tale of the 1896 ‘Wisconsin Window Smasher’ Mary Sweeney, who after 100 arrests for destroying panes of glass was committed to the state asylum. Towards the close, the slightly inconsequential ‘Gulls’ backed with Indian percussion, meanders past pleasantly enough, while concluding track ‘Wildebeest’ recounts the tragically early death of ‘The Father of American Music’ Stephen Foster in 1864. Patiently ploughing their own furrow over the past two decades to growing acclaim, ‘Wilderness’ should deservedly scoop the same critical plaudits as previous ‘Family outings, the latest entry into the band’s extensive canon of outstanding work.

Track Listing:-
1 Flies
2 Frogs
3 Eels
4 Octopus
5 Owls
6 Caterpillars
7 Glow Worm
8 Lizard
9 Woodpecker
10 Gulls
11 Spider
12 Wildebeest

Band Links:-

Label Links:-

Post A Comment

your name
ie London, UK
Check box to submit


Interview (2013)
Handsome Family - Interview
New Mexico husband-and-wife Americana duo the Handsome Family talk to Richard Lewis at a show in Liverpool about their critically acclaimed latest album 'Wilderness'

live reviews

Memorial Hall, Sheffield, 19/3/2105
Handsome Family - Memorial Hall, Sheffield, 19/3/2105
Nicky Crewe enjoys husband-and-wife duo the Handsome Family's unusual Gothic-tinged Americana a gig at the Memorial Hall in Sheffield

digital downloads


Unseen (2016)
Consistent latest album from the Handsome Family, the band of husband-and-wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks
Honey Moon (2009)

most viewed articles

most viewed reviews

related articles

Tom Bridgewater: Interview (2015
Tom Bridgewater - Interview
Owen Peters talks to Tom Bridgewater, the owner of Europe’s leading Americana label Loose Music, about his label’s lengthy history

Pennyblackmusic Regular Contributors