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The Handsome Family

Wilderness – 2013 (Carrot Top)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by The Handsome Family

"Wilderness" is another twisted menagerie of The Handsome Family songs. Once again, husband Brett Sparks sings their songs, sometimes in a bellowing gravedigger voice, after adding music to wife Rennie's lyrics. This time out, each and every tune is named after an animal, insect or other such nature creature. However, Rennie studies animals the way Flannery O'Connor wrote about humans, which is with the weirdness and character flaws in primary focus. If you're expecting an Animal Planet soundtrack, you'll be out of luck here, brother.

Beasties are just the starting point for Rennie, though, as she works in historical references to both General Custer and songwriting genius Stephen Foster into her songs. Sometimes, Rennie's songs come out like folksy, gothic horror stories, such as Lizard, which finds Rennie harmonizing with Brett on a song about a mean, biting lizard. The song is sung like a foreboding folk song, complete with whimpering fiddle and nervous mandolin.

Exploring a new Handsome Family album is akin to having a crazy aunt (Rennie) that drops acid, takes nature walks and writes about these trips in her journal. Afterwards, she passes these writings on to her George Jones-loving (Brett) musician friend, who transforms these adventures into songs. If you're an adult that never grew out of telling tall tales as a child, you'll likely find a kinship with The Handsome Family. Storytelling is one of country music's great legacies, but it's certain Hank never done it this way.