The Handsome Family
The Handsome Family is a 20-year songwriting collaboration between husband and wife, Brett (music) and Rennie Sparks (words). Their music has always been Americana in the truest sense— echoing everything from medieval ballad to Appalachian holler to Tin Pan Alley and punk rock. The Sparks’ write songs that are full of an awed sense of emotion in the face of nature’s mysterious beauty and the wonders of everyday life. The Handsome Family's 2009 release, Honey Moon, for example, is an album of love songs, but the beloved within these tracks is a praying mantis, a sleeping bird, a cement truck, and a puddle.
In 2010 the band released Scattered, a collection of lost demos, orphaned songs and odd covers that included material culled from their entire career. The band’s seventh CD, Last Days of Wonder (2006), was one of Mojo magazine’s, “Top Ten American Albums” and was called “an unqualified triumph” by Uncut. The Sparks’ fourth album, In the Air was named one of the most important records of the 21st century also by Uncut. In 2004, a reader's poll in Mojo named The Handsome Family's third CD, Through the Trees one of the ten essential Americana records of all time. UK national newspaper, The Guardian listed the Handsome Family song "Weightless Again" as one of the 100 best songs ever written about heartbreak.
Handsome Family songs have been covered by many artists, most notably: Andrew Bird, Christy Moore, Jeff Tweedy, Cerys Matthews, Kelly Hogan and an unknown singer on American Idol. The band has appeared in the movie, I’m Your Man (2005), a tribute to Leonard Cohen as well as Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (2004). The Handsome Family record all their songs in a converted garage studio at the back of their house in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA.
A live review by Mike Ritchie in The Scotsman noted, “There’s a lot of smiling at this gig, on and off stage. That might surprise many people who have only read about the duo’s penchant for songs riddled with darkness, death and the macabre. But Rennie Sparks and her husband, Brett are funny live...through their chit-chat, the song introductions and the banter with the audience...this sell-out show was a knockabout celebration of the deadpan, a real joy... Rennie’s words plus Brett’s music and strong, mellow vocals create a magical potion of grim fairytales in a rock and blues pot with grinning unavoidable.”
"Jon Langford has grit in his voice and melody in his soul. A punk-rock pioneer, a leading light of alt-country, a troubadour for our times, a musicians’ mentor, a visual artist of uncommon skill, a singer-songwriter who writes with the authority of having lived a life
rather just having imagined it, how do you peg Langford? Is he folk, rock, country, punk, what? Yes, he’s all that. Langford is Langford, a transplanted Welshman who’s been in Chicago long enough for us to claim him, and in doing so, stake a claim to a treasure." - Chicago New City