The Handsome Family – Unseen – Album Review

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The Handsome Family’s music delivers a fairly traditional yet modern Country Blues sound with a bit of Gothic Country.

The Handsome Family who consist of husband and wife, Brett and Rennie Sparks, are an alternative Country – Blues/Americana duo from Chicago Illinois but are currently based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Probably best known for their track, Far From Any Road, which featured in the TV show True DetectiveThe Handsome Family return with their tenth studio album titled Unseen which will be released September 16th 2016.

Listen to Unseen by The Handsome Family on @AppleMusic.
https://itun.es/gb/fvCqdb

The Handsome Family are on Loose Music – who, in my opinion, have some of the best Country and Americana artists on their label today such as Andrew Combs, Barna Howard, Sturgill Simpson and of course The Handsome Family.

Admittedly, this is the first time I have heard of The Handsome Family, so I have gone into this review unaware of past material. The Handsome family are unlike any artist I have listened to. Their music is so different and distinctive that I would say it was fairly difficult to categorise them, but I will attempt none the less.

From the very first track Gold – the music delivers a fairly traditional yet modern Country Blues sound with a bit of Gothic Country added ( if that’s a thing?If not, it should be) The intro to the track has a very deep vocal which makes it slightly dark and then plays into a more upbeat verse which I really enjoy! This is a great song, it is certainly one of the more stand out tracks off the album and a wonderful introduction to the album.

There are many traditional country and other interesting instruments played throughout the album in a way that offers so much detail. Every note on every song has been cleverly featured which sonically makes the album quite diverse. In particular tracks such as The Silver Light which begins with the sound of a slot machine. The Silver Light is probably one of my favourite tracks off the album as holds a strong country element to it and has really lovely baritone vocals and harmonies which I rarely hear in music that I listen to.

Other stand out tracks are single – Back In My Day – this has a chorus which is wonderfully sombre. The lyrics are really relatable in terms of expressing how things used to be back in the day!

We had maps that unfolded back in my day. You could drink from the river. We had gods made of clay. There were mile-high glaciers, no locks on the doors.

Tiny Tina – another track with great instrumental detail using a miniature set of porcelain bells in the intro and other interesting instruments within the track such as human bone xylophone and invisible double trombone– this song has a slight eerie sound and equally eerie vocals with the added harmonies from Rennie.

More folky songs on the album are Underneath The Falls and The Sea Rose which have steady, but lovely consistent melodies and great harmonies. Underneath The Falls in particular has an enjoyable chorus.

The Red Door – reminds me a little of the song Blue Moon at the beginning. Quite a toe-tapping, down-tempo track with a relaxing, tuneful melody.

Gentlemen – has quite a spine-chilling beginning but eases as the song goes on. The intro reminds me slightly of The House Of The Rising Sun but only the intro as is a completely different song in general.

King Of Dust – this is quite a melancholic song but has a nice melody to it. The lyrics start off describing a dream and I think the song delivers and captures that well as I felt this song was, lack of a better word, floaty and well….dreamy.

The last track off the album Green Willow Valley – heads back into a more country-folk/Americana style. Ending the album with a rather poignant yet calming song.

Despite the fact a lot of the lyrics are delivered in sepulchral tone, some of the songs themselves are actually quite up-beat. The general theme of the album is fairly melancholic with its gothic layers and deep, haunting baritone vocals from Brett and equally haunting and eerie harmonies from Rennie. The Handsome Family’s story telling lyrics are rather poetic and diverse and interestingly clever.

Unseen is a very enjoyable album and so very far from mainstream country that it screams individuality. You won’t find The Handsome Family played on mainstream radio I doubt but then again, a lot of the great musicians in Country aren’t played on country radio so to me, that is neither here nor there. I don’t think it will affect them as the audience they are likely to cater for won’t listen to those stations anyway.

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