The Handsome Family Go Back In Time at Tramshed Cardiff

The Handsome Family Go Back In Time at Tramshed Cardiff

The Handsome Family Go Back In Time at Tramshed Cardiff.  We are stepping on board the Handsome Family Tardis as they take us back twenty years to 1998 and the release of their third album Through The Trees.

First, let’s set the scene. It is a sedate Tramshed tonight, no barrier, not standing crowds but neatly arranged banks of chairs. Very different from when The Handsome Family played the packed and very warm standing gig at The Globe March 2015. Times are a changing. Last time the tour was following the release of Wilderness, tonight we are in a retrospective mood as we step back in time.

Secondly, in time-honoured tradition The Handsome Family have support and for this tour, it is Drunken Prayer aka Morgan Geer. Yes, Drunken Prayer is a solo act, no band joined him as he stood on stage dressed in black with his fender telecaster. The venue was cool and we needed warming up, to build up the atmosphere for the anticipated main act. The music delivered was an eclectic mix of styles, loosely fitting under the banner Americana. The lyrics and delivery were rooted in the folk music of the Scot-Irish ancestors of the area of North Carolina the Geer family hails from. Whilst the guitar playing roved from Rockabilly through to Country via what was at times rather eerie and creepy delivery of chords. Reflecting his album Title Devil and The Blues, his quiet style would have benefited from a bit more dialogue with the audience combined with a mix of styles definitely hit the right spot for the audience who appreciated the laid-back low-key delivery.

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Thirdly, interval time to catch up with friends, have a drink and explore the merch on offer including the charming, unique and effective painting by Rennie.

Now for the main event, as the lights dimmed again, sets were re-taken and The Handsome Family stepped onto the stage to warm applause and whoops of delight.  Tonight the heart of the band bringing The Handsome Family a spark of creativity are husband and wife Rennie stage left and Brett Sparks centre stage were joined by drummer and extraordinarily talented percussionist Jason Toth and multi-instrumentalist Alex McMahon. On stage tonight the array of instruments played and sounds created shaped the tones and textures that accompanied the story filled poetic lyrics of every song. The one constant was the acoustic guitar and vocals from Brett as everyone around him changed instruments he kept on delivering.

This tour is the first time The Handsome Family have played an album in its entirety. The album heard and played live had a mesmeric effect, a soothing yet troublesome mix of a lullaby, fables and gothic fairy tales. We were taken into the trees, to meet the world’s tallest man. Who at five years old was six-foot and too tall to be hugged Rennie shared this, felt so sad that it had been the motivational thought to write a song. As ever it is the anecdotes the conversations between husband and wife that binds the live show together. We the audience are invited to hear the conversations that normally we do not hear. Snippets of thoughts and the trail of making a song. The tone at times takes on a feeling that we are listening to a pair of bickering comedians. The music at times is trippy and other times scary but always wrapped in the delivery of tones that are uniquely the family way.  Where the Birch Trees Lean, is haunting you can hear the wind in the music that has shaped the Birches, the titanium triangle from Portugal (these are the facts you get from Rennie!) makes a distinctive bell-like surreal sound. The next number was seamless as we now were taken inside the Cathedral as the song inspired by the life of the majestic building. The unusual and at times unexpected sounds creating moods and atmospheres. Sometimes these are cold other time warm and comforting full of atmosphere. The music is a collision of music from folk who have influenced the music of America with an edge of modernity as punk-folk is developed. The songs are rarely cute or quaint. Often involving critters and the power of nature the sounds and lyrics challenge you this is modern cutting and challenging.

As the album fades away with the closing track My Ghost the feeling of the venue is ethereal. We all wondered what other highlights from across their discography would be plucked out to close out tonight’s concert. The tone and mood picked up with gems including Frogs from their latest album Wilderness and of course no set would be complete without Far From Any Roads the hit theme song they wrote for True Detectives. Another stand out number was The Bottomless Hole. As the music faded we had to climb out of the bottomless hole that is the magic weaving of sound that encapsulates you at a Handsome Family show and step out of the venue and back into the real world beyond.

Weightless Again

Track List – Through The Trees
Weightless Again
My Sister’s Tiny Hands
Where the Birch Trees Lean
Down In The Ground
The Giant of Illinois
Down in the Valley of Hollow Logs
I Fell
The Woman Downstairs
Last Night I Went Out Walking
Bury Me Here
My Ghost

08 MAR – HEBDEN BRIDGE Trades Club
10 MAR – EDINBURGH La Belle Angele
12 MAR – ABERDEEN Lemon Tree
13 MAR – STIRLING Tolbooth
15 MAR – LONDON Round Chapel
17 MAR – LEEDS Howard Assembly Room
20 MAR – NORWICH Waterfront
21 MAR – CAMBRIDGE Junction
22 MAR – BRISTOL St Georges
24 MAR – BRIGHTON St Georges Church
25 MAR – FOLKESTONE Quarterhouse
26 MAY – HANNOVER Café Glocksee (DE)
27 MAY – BERLIN Lido (DE)
29 MAY – DRESDEN Beatpol (DE)
30 MAY – REGENSBURG Alte Mälzerei (DE)
02 JUN – FREIBURG Great Räng Teng Teng (DE)
03 JUN – ZÜRICH El Lokal (CH)
06 JUN – HEIDELBERG Karlstorbahnhof (DE)
07 JUN – WIESBADEN Kesselhaus (DE)
09 JUN – AMSTERDAM Paradiso Noord (NL)
11 JUN – AARHUS Atlas (DK)
12 JUN – COPENHAGEN Jazzhouse (DK)
15 JUN – GOTHENBURG Pustervik (SE)
16 JUN – Södra Teatern & Mosebacke (SE)

Tickets via


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The Handsome Family @ The Globe Cardiff March 2015

The Handsome Family - The Globe - March 2015 -  5 - _0086l

The Handsome Family
The Globe, Cardiff
Sunday 22nd March



Daniel Knox - The Globe - March 2015 -  5 - _0013l

Opening the evening of American folk with a quirky twist was Daniel Knox, who combined amusing and powerful lyrics with Keyboard, Melodica and Kazoo providing a witty and entertaining set. Daniel had an easy-going manner with humorous repartee all the self-penned numbers had interesting and thought-provoking lyrics highlight for me was David Carmichael a ghost story. Daniel was a perfect opener that was enjoyed by the packed audience waiting to hear The Handsome Family in The Globe on a Sunday evening.

The Handsome Family - The Globe - March 2015 -  5 - _0117lIt was packed with a buzz of excited anticipation that ran around the venue as we waited, with many fans, to hear The Handsome Family live in Cardiff, with the hope of hearing tracks from their current album Wilderness and from their back catalogue. The centre of the group is the husband and wife team of Rennie, stage left on her bass Ukulele, vocals and Zither and stage right Brett guitar/vocals and providing a backdrop of an interesting and talented array of percussion skills Jason Tosh. The rapport with the audience was built throughout the show and nothing the, rather boisterous at times, crowd threw at them was being ignored. They were responded to with a laugh and the sparks of magnetism were built as they had a friendly bickering as they introduced each song we all got to know them and their thought processes a little bit more. This is definitely music that is alternative, quirky and full of lyrics that develop and share emotions as in The Loneliness of Magnets and many recognized Far From the Any Road as the song that is the theme tune of True Detective. Every song sung and story told immersed you in the story being told and showed the breadth and depth of their catalogue of emotional melodies amassed after ten albums.
An amazing array of innovations with the drums by Jason using all available props this is percussion that is both controlled and on the edge, loved the innovative dampening on the cymbals. Tiny Tina was about the regret of putting something off because the tiniest horse visit as part of the fair every year BUT don’t put it off seeing Tina as there will be a year when she doesn’t come to town. The encore was a delight and appeased partially the desire to hear more of their originality and wonderful earthy country music. This was a stylish set from beginning to end there was a great live rendition of Frogs from their latest album and themes of such diversity were explored with humour, sadness and every emotion in-between, we all loved their music tonight in Cardiff.

The Handsome Family - The Globe - March 2015 -  5 - _0114lThere is an other-worldliness about their American fold driven music of woods and lands undiscovered mysteries and hauntings as they twist Gothic with the modern and the heritage of folk with a contemporary and relative sound, The Handsome Family are an eccentric musically driven delight. A wonderful musical experience, quiet unique thank you Handsome Family for an amazing evening of live music.

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CD Review: The Handsome Family ~ Wilderness

The Handsome Family
Hnadome backWilderness
Loose Records

The tenth album from the New-Mexico husband & wife duo, Brett developing the range of melodies used to support and enhance the lyrical talent of Rennie Sparks who are The Handsome Family is folk, traditional music and the muse is definitely other-worldly/gothic as the sound ebbs and flows around the lyrics. There is a dream-like quality about the wilderness full of birds, mammals and insects and all twelve tracks have a title of a beastie created on the album, it is both medieval and modern as it touches environmental issues and celebrates nature red in tooth and claw. This is a fantasy wilderness as the animals cross continents and live within the salty water, fresh water underground and in the tress in this creation that musically and lyrically builds a sound mural that is both comforting and scary; this is achieved by the artistry of Brett & Rennie and selected guests.
No track is a monologue in praise of the creature in the title, the opening track Flies we are introduced to Montana Prairie and how the flowers look so beautiful to flies, an interesting way into celebrating the landscape and how it has changed and mankind’s influence on the landscape and culture; but flies stay and live their own lives. Eels is full of mystery the contradiction at times of myths of animals and the reality we explore swallows who we thought lived under water, the flight of the monarchy and hidden journeys of eels through the seas it is a song of echoes and the music reflects this perfectly.
It is not surprising the Octopus has a Beatle-esque poppy feel and change of tempo and approach adding some light, Octopus explores the nature of this celopalopod with its eight limbs is the perfect vehicle to go off into a fantasy. There is no doubt that the favoured tempo of The Handsome Family is mid-tempo and what stops this penchant for this range of speed and beat from becoming repetitive is the array of instruments used to articulate the mood whether the banjo, mandolin or ukulele and then the moody baritone vocals that give the music gravitas and adds to the mood music of gothic folk and above all the interesting tale being told. Caterpillars is about Sylvia struck by lightning one night and the coma she was left in and the re-awaking this is a beginning of a superb fantasy you want to know the full outcome of this experience and the change in her life. Glow Worm is a journey tale that is at the heart of many a folk tale, you can see into the earth, crystal palace and you are filled with the awe of new experiences that all your sense can enjoy. Spider is country sound with a toe tapping dance beat, but it has a darker meaning when the lyrics unfold as civilization is broken down! Every track is a gem and the layers of meaning to explore every time you listen another snippet comes to the fore as the interaction of man and nature the outcome of actions and the bare rooted brutality of the consequences are woven into to an album the celebrates The Wilderness in every shape and form.

This is an album that intrigues and delights the deep vocals of Brett and the lyrics that haunt, disturb and bring joy definitely have a feel of Edgar Allan Poe, and echoes of gothic and fantasy fiction with its roots firmly bedded into a reality of ecology and the folk/country tradition of building a tale that has to be heard and we want to listen too. Why the album works as a cohesive tale each track is a chapter in the story that is The Wilderness that we should cherish, protect and never stop be amazed by the tales that nature all around us have to tell.

Bluesdoodles gives this CD NINE doodle paws out of TEN ….pawprint half inch