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

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