Even within the explosion of our modern love and gospel’y worship of the Old Weird America, The Handsome Family are all angles and elbows about fitting in that big ratty tent.
There is a simple reason for this. They are cursed with a true and authentic individualism that I would imagine better knows artists would not want carry. Consequently, they are smarter and darker and braver and better than the countless ‘Eagles with banjo’s’ that walk (barefoot) these same genres.
First, a personal fact: When CC and I started The Grimm Generation, I had to famous couples in mind as a rough draft of the territory I wanted to cover. The first was Lux and Poison of The Cramps, based on the absolute danger they kicked up when kickin’. And the second was Brett and Rennie of The Handsome Family for the very clear message they brought: Do What You Believe In. I think we got kinda close to these ideals.
For those uninitiated (aside from the True Detective Season 1 theme ‘Far From Any Road’ which earned them some exposure), The Handsome Family are a married couple. A married couple who seem to be able to pull off any artifice. They are immensely talented freaks who create songs containing stories that are a strange alternate Universe of the Anthology of American Music, but updated to contain the current crops of beaten down autos and beaten up riders that cross the darkened roads.
It is almost American Nostalgic Science Fiction, an absolute unique lyrical voice, and the pen of Rennie Sparks. A steady and strange hand on the rudder that leads us into murder and alcohol and the mating habits of ant’s or a view of Tesla’s Hotel Room.
Rennie is a hero of mine. She is a freak among freaks based on her Long Island intellectual upbringing (I don’t know her, I just scratch color the spaces I can’t know) and her sweet and bizarre sense of humor (I listen to a lot of Handsome Family bootlegs, so this is taken from that context). She plays bass and auto harp and sings too. She is the brain, the soul and headpiece, the mouth piece of The Family.
And Brett is the very Earth. He sings and roars with a bellow Odin would envy. He is large in size, but larger than life when playing and singing these twisted Rennie tales. His voice is ageless, and his style can cop a true Rudy Vallee honeycomb tone, and a barbaric, honest reading of ‘Knoxville Girl’. I appreciate his guitar playing deeply, and is the one artist whose style I would steal outright if not for the-not -that- talented thing. His guitar, with subtle and unsettled reverb, sounds like American Jukebox All Time Champ for eliciting honest and trans-formative sepia toned tones that sound alternate Carter Family and Link Wray.
This is a duo, and seeing them in that form is akin to being invited to their living room….right after a big fight between them. There is a tension that is ever present and it adds to the carnival of bad decision making the songs often portray as salt adds to sugar.
And you may never know any of this. Cause I don’t believe The Handsome Family will ever play well with The Market. Sometimes it takes certain devotee’s to hep the masses.
Consider this your hepping. Listen To The Handsome Family.