Brett and Rennie Sparks have long occupied their own niche in the field of alt-country. Brett’s lugubrious baritone has always been easy on the ear, but what sets them apart from anyone else is Rennie’s unique lyrical gifts. A published author, she combines the blackest of black humour with a fascination with the natural world, in particular nature’s propensity to cruelty. This combined with country music’s maudlin focus on life’s losers gives them a downbeat air that can be both wickedly funny but also slightly creepy. The duo’s achilles heel can be the tunes themselves which sometimes are pretty forgettable. It’s not helped by the fact that the tempos are rarely raised above a plod, and Brett’s delivery can sometimes be so drily witty as to appear a little passionless.
Honey Moon is the Handsome Family’s eighth studio album in fifteen years. Over time they’ve broadened their musical range beyond their core country and bluegrass. This is immediately apparent on the album’s opener “Linger Let Me Linger” which is a waltz-time number that sounds like Tom Waits doing that weird falsetto thing he sometimes does whilst being backed by a doowop group beamed in from the mid fifties. A couple of other songs have pretty weird arrangements. “The Loneliness of Magnets” sees Brett experiment with a kind of falsetto again, backed by a cool jazz shuffle. It ends up sounding like the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band. With its Sputnik satellite beeps and burble, “Love is Like” is a slightly dissonant ballad that is basically a string of slightly odd metaphors.
Rennie’s lyrics are as beguiling as ever. If anything, she’s mellowed somewhat with some of the songs definitely bringing out her hidden romantic side. There’s plenty of the old Rennie here, though, with some disturbing but funny imagery. For instance, on “The Petrified Forest” she writes “When you left me alone the sky turned to stone / and my legs rolled into the sea / why did you go? the sea was so cold / my arms blew off in the breeze“. Best of all is “Darling My Darling” in which an insect declares his passion for his beloved knowing full well that she’ll eat him after mating. It’s good, too, that the CD contains a lyric booklet – something sadly lacking from many of their previous albums.
On the downside, many of the tracks fail to spark (sorry) musically, and the homogenous tempo makes it difficult to get too engaged with some of the songs. It’s a familiar failing. I’d recommend Honey Moon to fans of the duo. For newbies, I would suggest grabbing hold of Through the Trees or In the Air first.
1 Linger, Let Me Linger 3:34
2 Little Sparrows 3:08
3 My Friend 4:56
4 When You Whispered 3:11
5 The Loneliness of Magnets 3:43
6 June Bugs 3:38
7 A Thousand Diamond Rings 3:40
8 Love Is Like 3:21
9 The Petrified Forest 4:11
10 Wild Wood 3:10
11 Darling, My Darling 3:39
12 The Winding Corn Maze 4:35