The Handsome Family spin beastly tales with macabre music at the Kazimier, Getintothis Jamie Bowman enters a frazzled, yet fantastic, Wilderness.
In the lexicon of pop, ‘kooky’ is a word with a chequered history. Paloma Faith is ‘kooky’. So is Imelda May. But despite often being a short hand for ‘annoying’ it’s impossible not to use the phrase when reviewing the Handsome Family.
Husband and wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks are the kooky couple a question: married for 25 years, they have been bringing their strange and rather creepy take on Americana to audiences for two decades now coming across as alt-country’s very own Johnny and June but without the pepper sprouts.
Tonight the couple are embarking on the first date of a short UK tour and seem, well a little frazzled.
Rennie plays the part of the long suffering wife perfectly as she berates a rather tipsy Brett for everything from his alcohol intake and jet lagged mind to his inability to remember the words to the songs from their new album Wilderness.
It’s as if George and Mildred moved to Albuquerque and although it’s frequently amusing, the pair’s duelling is also given a slightly queasy edge by the knowledge that Brett’s mental problems have cast a genuine shadow over this band’s strange, macabre music.
The Handsome Family grip The Kazimier with their dark, twisted tales
The frequently beautiful songs form Wilderness all use the natural world as a jumping off point with each and every one given a one word animal title. This being the Handsome Family very few appear to be tales of the Free Willy variety.
Instead in Caterpillars a woman is cocooned after she is struck by lightning; in Flies, General Custer’s dead body makes a nice meal for the creepy crawlies and best of all in Octopus, Brett sees the three hearted beastie in his beer can as well as his bath – a scary vision that convinces him to “try and stay away from seashore holidays.”
Brett’s enormously deep baritone dominates proceedings and with the funereal pace of the songs sometimes becoming taxing, it’s a sweet relief when one of published novelist Rennie’s lyrics jump out and you and refocus your mind on her lovely banjo and auto harp playing.
By the end it’s a surprise that you’re not brushing cobwebs from your hair and reaching for a stiff drink of sour mash such is the old time spookiness of it all.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Andrew AB.