Handsome Family

REVIEW: The Handsome Family “Hollow”


The Handsome Family – Hollow

Around for about 30 years this duo explores a dark beguiling Americana. Husband & wife team The Handsome Family always has a tight perspective & well-delivered style. Some of their topics border on eccentric but the rural-ese comes through their showcase in a compelling way. This CD is 11 themes spread over their 11th effort Hollow (Drops Sept 8–Milk & Scissors Music).

Handsome Family

This music’s designed with a shadowy sophistication. An eerie dusky potency that comes with an evening not yet dark but with just a purple twilight. Music that requires no posturing, it’s all instinctive. Atmospheric. And expressive.

Originating in Chicago & now New Mexico – Brett & Rennie Sparks have a British formula folk sound since much of their terse construction glides along in familiar musical scenery painted previously by Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson & Clive Gregson.


The vocals are consistently deep rooted with storytelling that replicates the old-world folk traditions. “Joseph” is one such song. It sounds like it may have been written a 100 years ago. I’m reminded of The Swans when singer-guitarist Michael Gira with an equally deep resounding voice experimented with folk-country blends on “Burning World.” It could be said that deep-voiced Brad Roberts of the Crash Test Dummies also dabbled with such music.

But down to earth, the Handsome Family with Brett’s baritone, has the earthy tonalities that reap the best of traditional mores. “The King of Everything,” has an arrangement that unleashes a nice rock beat & shapes it into a flawless piece. The duo’s bravery at crafting unorthodox music in the realm of Americana is admirable. They never wander off into strangeness as much as Brendan Perry & Dead Can Dance. Instead, they maintain a rootsier-discipline as applied to the lovely mandolin driven “The Oldest Water.” Originality & creativity – it’s all here.

The Handsome Family allow their musical colors to run. Going a little more country inspired in “Shady Lake,” that retains a faithful tone with fragility. It allows the deeper notes to accentuate the message. The tender falsetto is used quite effectively as well & the instrumental interplay sparkles. The band travels down pensive pathways where other artists have wandered. Amazing Blondell, the Incredible String Band, the Oyster Band, Spirit of the West & Lindisfarne.

While these artists had their own uniqueness (Medieval, rock, folk — they all created a musical curiosity that the Handsome Family has the magic formula for). The images this music conjures can be found in vast echoey cathedrals, grassy cemeteries with headstones that can’t be read anymore & to gazebos in snowstorms. The music signifies this in its atmosphere.

Highlights – “Joseph” “The King of Everything,” “The Oldest Water,” “Shady Lake,” “To the Oaks,” “Strawberry Moon” & “Good Night.”

Musicians – Brett Sparks (lead vocal/multi-instrumentalist/music), Rennie Sparks (banjo/vocal/lyrics), Alex McMahon (guitar), Dave “Guts” Gutierrez (mandolin) & Josh Toth (percussion).

Color image courtesy of the duo’s website. The 41-minute CD @ https://handsomefamily.com/


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