Here's a piece for Venue magazine, previewing a Handsome Family show at the Bath Fringe Festival on May 28th.
"Listen to me, Butterfly. There's only so much wine you can drink in one life and it will never be enough to save you from the bottom of your glass.."
That’s a Handsome Family lyric from their 2000 album “In The Air”. It’s enough to make any fellow song writer wonder whether there is any point bothering. The succinct wisdom and effortless romance makes me feel like banging my head repeatedly into the table top and cracking open a bottle of red. The Handsome Family are Albuquerque-based husband and wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks. She writes the words, he writes the music, and with her peerless lyrical gifts and his staggering ability to sing four part harmonies over several scales one can be forgiven for thinking they really are an extended family. Like the Carter Family, or something. Or even earlier. Before anything was recorded. When songs evolved and existed only for themselves. In the old days, when Folk music was replete with depressing lyrics about famine, suicide and murder. The duo’s early single “Arlene” was banned from the radio for that very reason. As ever, our self-appointed moral guardians are ignorant of their own history.
The Handsome Family's All Music Guide entry reads like someone grasping at straws in a monstrous stack of needles. “Neo-traditional alternative country-folk” it says. This absurd fixation with genres is the recondite preserve of the journalist and is rarely shared by your average, sane music lover. Normal people just file their albums A to Z or not at all. Couldn’t it be that so many hyphens in a description be the sign of something, dare we say it, original? But there is something to the “Neo-traditional” bit. The Handsome Family sound like they missed out the last century, and arrived straight from the American Gothic. That’s where sallow, grizzled pitchfork-wielding farmers stare glassy-eyed into the lens bearing the silent burden of countless cot deaths, failed harvests and a fire and brimstone God who hates everyone’s guts. A picture which, in the graceful and supremely talented hands of the Sparks, is rendered both darkly sublime and very funny.
Venue - Bristol and Bath's weekly magazine
The Big Gig Feature
Issue number V869
Magazine publishing is an industry that is quickly affected by economic downturns. The perception of magazines as luxury items may lead people to stop buying them, but more crucially, reliance on advertising revenue means they suffer the knock-on effect of other concerns tightening the purse strings or folding altogether. Sadly, Plan B magazine is no longer with us. Each month, hundreds of left-field artists will get even less coverage than they already do. Plan B was a magazine you could buy in a regular newsagent and read passionate articles about bands you would otherwise have never heard of. "Why I Hate Rock 'n' Roll', reprinted here not long ago, was commissioned by Louis, the editor of Plan B, and I consider it to be my best piece of writing.
At least we still have John Doran's the Quietus.