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The Handsome Family

In the Air – 2000 (Carrot Top)

Reviewed by Rachel Leibrock

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CDs by The Handsome Family

Like characters out of a Flannery O' Connor novel, the husband and wife team of Brett and Rennie Sparks - a.k.a The Handsome Family - craft dark, wicked and twisted tales of Southern dispair.

The couple's fourth album is like a crumbling, moldy box stashed away in the attic. Reeking of mystery and old age, its contents may not always be pleasant, yet they're sure to satisfy some deep-seated longing for the truth - however ugly it may be. Brett Sparks' bottomless baritone - this voice is classic country - provides the heart of the music here, resonating with a dusky cheer; Rennie's jumpy, maniacal poetry is its soul.

Employing a plethora of random instruments - accordion, dobro, autoharp and mandolin to name a few - Brett's compositions wind and twist through the psyche like a headless scarecrow flapping in the breeze. Meanwhile, Rennie's wayward lyrical drifts evoke a creeping sense of dread mixed with curiosity. "Michael threw his glasses in the cold, green water. Hermit crabs ran as he dove down under. One of his shoes bobbed on the waves. Seagulls circled until it finally sank." From crows and wild red roses to wheelchairs and helicopters, Rennie skirts the obvious to create fresh, memorable imagery. (Carrot Top, 935 W. Chestnut, #LL15, Chicago, IL 60622, 312-432-1194)