The Handsome Family 'Wilderness' - Loose

The Handsomes are one of the most unique and identifiable duos in the Americana network. In some senses this new album deserves the term as Rennie Sparks’ lyrics focus on the little creatures that crawl, walk or fly over American soil. The tunes feature one word titles Flies, Frogs, Owls, Spider, Woodpecker and Wildebeast. Those of us who hold this band dear know that Rennie is an intriguing and original writer of lyrics and prose. Her husband Brett is the other half of the equation, the main singer and chief instrumentalist. He is also the producer and recorder of the songs, something that he takes great pains with. He very much wants to get what he hears in his head down on tape. 

At this point he has transcended any specific musical references and combines his wide influences into something that is now it's own thing. They use the occasional guest to bring something to a particular song though Brett can usually easily achieve on his own. Rennie adds vocals to several songs and the two voices blend well coming from opposite ranges; his sonorous and hers airy. She also plays banjo on a couple of songs.

This is an album that works and should be heard as a whole. They may not be any singular song that stand out, but in context this can be counted among the strongest albums they have yet produced. It is one that also highlights Rennie's skill as an illustrator. Her colourful world of  "wee beasties" grace the cover and lyric booklet and are a perfect introduction to the equally vivid songs within. These seem simple on the surface buton  close examination they open you to a vision of an underworld the equal of any Victorian explorers sketch book. They reveal hidden corners and the lives of specific creatures that rarely would be the subject of song. The husband and wife team are indeed intrepid explores themselves and while there is no major departure in terms of sound from what would be recognised as the Handsome Family sound they have not been afraid to add to its sum total and continued development.

Wilderness has always a place that has its own particular beauty and this example can be said to no less intriguing. I can think of no other musical entity that would make such a attractive proposition on such an commonplace set of species with such uncommon relish. Long may they roam.