Concerts and Shows at The Magic Bag
The Handsome Family
Sunday, October 8 - Doors 7pm - $17 adv. - All Ages
Words that in their everyday surrealism have no parallel in contemporary writing... Music that mines the deep veins of fatalism in the Appalachian voice —GREIL MARCUS
Where others retrace well-trodden paths and humdrum traditions, The Handsome Family go off-road to hunt down phantoms, to update forgotten myths and ancient black jokes —UNCUT
Dark, elemental, mischievous and mournful —MOJO
The Handsome Family - as funny as ...., as sweet as love, and as serious as death—UNCUT
Each song is like an abridged Flannery O'Connor story read aloud by Johnny Cash, hovering somewhere between the metaphysical and the mundane —NME
The Handsome Family's new record (released Sept, 2023) began with a scream in the night. "It was a bleak winter during the middle of the pandemic," says Brett Sparks. "One night around 4 a.m. Rennie started screaming in her sleep. She screamed, 'Come into the circle Joseph! There's no moon tonight.' Scary as it was, I thought, man, that's a good chorus!"
The Handsome Family (songwriting and marriage partners Brett and Rennie Sparks) have been defining the dark end of americana for over 30 years. Brett writes the music and Rennie writes the words. Their work has been covered by many artists including Jeff Tweedy, Andrew Bird and most-recently Phoebe Bridgers. Their song "Far From Any Road" was the opening theme for HBO's True Detective season one and still receives thousands of Shazams every week from all over the world.
Handsome Family songs take place under overpasses and inside airports. Historical figures like George A. Custer and Nikola Tesla appear alongside a flying milkman and the whisper of an air conditioner against a plastic tree.
Their eleventh studio album, Hollow (out Sep. 8, 2023) delves into the natural world at the edges of the man-made. It is a record lush with leaves and shadows and echoing with occult mystery.
It begins with the dream-inspired "Joseph"— full of Mott the Hoople swagger and electric guitar so overdriven it sounds like an organ run through a vacuum cleaner. Next is the haunting "Two Black Shoes" which filters a Portishead groove through the highway motels, homeless encampments and McMansions of post-pandemic America.
"I wanted to get an electronic feel with organic drums, "says Brett, "So I chopped up our drummer's takes into little bits, quantized the beats, and ran those through an Echoplex. I really like that hybrid of real and fake."
"The King of Everything," brings Brett's harpsichord background into the mix plus Rennie's time on the back porch taking muscle-relaxants and watching the white-winged doves.
"Squirrels in the basement / Raccoons in the walls / Centipedes with stingers," Brett sings on the mischievous and mysterious "Skunks." The spooky Beethoven-inspired piano and Brett's eerie whooping create a jingle for an increasingly desperate business. "Call us anytime at night," Brett sings. "Call us day or night."
The softly-strummed "Shady Lake" is based on a real fishing hole hidden in the cottonwoods outside of Albuquerque where soft waves lap the reedy shores as turtles dive from wet rocks into the murky glory.
Asked to describe their music Brett says, "Western gothic." It is music inspired by the abandoned strip malls of desert America where cracked pavement shimmers with heat and thorny weeds slowly reclaim the land.
Handsome Family songs may be dark, but there's always laughter on stage. Rennie sings as well as plays banjo and bass. She often introduces songs with seemingly unrelated stories. Brett, with his deep baritone and stentorian presence, is the undeniable center of stage. The two are often joined by multi-instrumentalists Alex McMahon and Jason Toth as well as fans, new and old, some returning again and again to see them live over the decades.
"My proudest musical moments," says Brett. "Are the check Richard Starkey wrote our label to buy all our cds and the words, "The Handsome Family" written in David Bowie's last notebook.