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The Handsome Family

Unseen – 2016 (Virtual)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by The Handsome Family

With "Back in my Day," off The Handsome Family's "Unseen" album, Brett Sparks sings Rennie Sparks' remembrances of how life was so much better back when she was a kid. It's an odd and unusual instance of nostalgia from this country-folk husband and wife duo because - much like Flannery O'Connor once accomplished through her vivid short stories - this pair usually gives us tragic Southern gothic tales in song. "Unseen," then, is not so much happier than past efforts, as it is slightly less sad.

"The Silver Light" rather dispassionately describes the scene inside a typical casino, and is introduced with slot machine sound effects. The Handsome Family so love the weirdness of life, as well as unusual history. This may be why they include a song about William Crookes called "Gentlemen," which is all about the man who invented the first vacuum tube in 1875, in hopes of detecting sprits from alternate dimensions.

This couple may sometimes be fascinated by sci-fi subject matter, such as the search for alternate universes, but the music they couch these ruminations in is strictly traditional. Brett bellows like an old school country singer, over music that includes plucked banjos and kind of churchy piano that supports "King of Dust."

The Handsome Family might sound deceptively simple; that is, if you don't take the time to dig beneath their surface. Below the plainly strummed acoustic guitar and circus-y woozy sonic elements that drive "Tiny Tina," is a song about the world's smallest horse performing at a fair. This is certainly not one of Paul McCartney's silly love songs. Whether it's the smoky atmosphere of a casino, or a dreamy walk through a local fair, The Handsome Family paint accurate and intricate portraits of wherever they happen to be at the moment. They turn the unseen world into crystal clear portraits.