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THE HANDSOME FAMILY - "Through The Trees"

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“Through The Trees”

Carrot Top Records - January 26, 1998

I first was introduced to The Handsome Family way back in the 1990’s by a singer in a band emerging from the fledgling “alt-country” movement.   Jeff Tweedy, whose Wilco was rapidly evolving past his Uncle Tupelo recent past, was still deep enough into the Chicago roots scene that between his band’s releases of “Being There” (1996) and “Summerteeth” (1999) he chipped in loaned equipment, guitar parts and occasional vocals to the third release, "Through The Trees," from a husband-wife duo called The Handsome Family. Brett and Rennie Sparks, he from Odessa, TX, she from Long Island, NY, were an unlikely demographical pairing who created an equally unlikely musical creation with Carter Family sensibilities brought into the modern age with subtly tasteful musical touches and a lyrical bent that moved from to heart-wrenching melancholy to sly wit often within the same song. The opening track, "Weightless Again," sets that tone with a tale lamenting the sad fate of the Native American intertwined with a chorus that explains, “This is why people OD on pills, and jump from the Golden Gate Bridge, Anything to feel weightless again.”  “There were lounge chairs thrown into the empty pool, and a dog chained to a tree was barking at the sky,” is a fine illustration of Rennie’s Raymond Carver like attention to life’s easily overlooked intricacies in her lyrics delivered in Brett’s full baritone on, “Cathedrals.” “The Woman Downstairs” is as perfect an exemplar of an “American Gothic” approach to urban living as imaginable with references to drunken suicide via public transit and a cop looting a corpse’s residence of a television set. The sad acceptance of “My Ghost” who, “Staggers and reels, runs up credit card bills, and clogs up the toilet with bottles of pills,” is the last glimpse into the mindset of the Sparks family for this episode. Additionally, Tweedy has covered the Handsome Family’s “So Much Wine” (a must for any sardonic Christmas sampler) frequently enough that it is often mistaken for his own and the Sparks returned the favor by doing a gorgeous version of Wilco’s “Capitol City” for an Uncut magazine compilation. Is The Handsome Family sometimes creepy? Certainly. Humorous? Often, to anyone whose sense of humor leans occasionally dark. Entertaining? I think of few artists as indispensable as a soundtrack inclusion for a long rural drive. Sandwich “Through The Trees’ in the middle between the Louvin Brothers’ “Satan Is Real,” and “Poor Little Knitter On The Road” a Tribute to The Knitters. Happy Motoring!

Standouts: “Weightless Again,” “Cathedrals,” “Bury Me Here”

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