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Posts Tagged ‘southern gothic’

The Handsome Family – Scattered
(self-released 2010)

[tags: southern gothic, alt country, 2010]

I just found out that one of CFM’s favorite bands ever, The Handsome Family – the best southern gothic and alt country band there ever was and will be – is about to release a new collection of songs in the vein of the former Smothered And Covered collection. If those are not the greates news you can get to make your day sweet, I don’t know what else could be. I for myself just pre-ordered the thing and I highly advise you to do the same thing asap. Here’s the link: click it!

At last the official quote from the website:

We have a new CD Release!
“Scattered: A Further Collection of Lost Demos, Orphaned Songs and Odd Covers”.
In the spirit of “Smothered and Covered” we’re releasing another cd full of bits and bobs. We should have copies to sell by June 10 and will have some on our upcoming tour dates. For the first year it will only be available on our website and at our shows. You can pre-order a copy here ( http://www.handsomefamily.com/Nmerch.html#anchor864587 ) and we’ll send one out to you when we get our first shipment pressed or you can buy one from us at a live show.

Here’s what’s on the cd….

“The Lost Soul ” originally recorded for Bloodshot Records’ 2005 compilation, For a Decade of Sin.
When it Rains,” was supposed to be on Twilight but somehow fell by the wayside.
“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” by Dylan, recorded for Uncut’s, Highway 61 Revisited Revisited.
“Snowball” originally released on Bloodshot’’s 2002 children’’s record, The Bottle Let Me Down.
“Ain’t No Grave” written by Brother Claude Ely.
“Little Buddy, one of our earliest attempts at songwriting (1993).
“Eleanor Rigby bluegrass version with the Rivet Gang.
“A Plague of Humans,” written for David Coulter’s “Plague Songs ” that took place at the Barbican in 2007.
“Famous Blue Raincoat” Leonard Cohen’s classic.
Drinking Beer on the Roof, an alternate to the “Red Leaf Forest. We realized later we liked these lyrics better.
“Telephones and Telescopes” originally released as a 7”” single by Speed Kills in 1992.
“The Lost Highway” most-famously recorded by Hank Williams. Our version’s from 2002.
“Honcho” is an instrumental recorded by Brett on 4-track in 1991.
“The Blizzard” by Harlan Howard, most-famously recorded by Jim Reeves.
What does the Deep Sea Say?” A traditional we first heard sung by The Blue Sky Boys.
“Tranquilized” is Brett’’s sad song about life post mental hospital. 1996.
June Bugs” (alternate take) this version has a certain magic we lost in the final mix released on Honey Moon.
One Way Up” (4-track demo) is an early (1990) 4-track version of a song later released on Odessa .

We have a new CD Release!
“Scattered: A Further Collection of Lost Demos, Orphaned Songs and Odd Covers”.
In the spirit of “Smothered and Covered” we’re releasing another cd full of bits and bobs. We should have copies to sell by June 10 and will have some on our upcoming tour dates. For the first year it will only be available on our website and at our shows. You can pre-order a copy here ( http://www.handsomefamily.com/Nmerch.html#anchor864587 ) and we’ll send one out to you when we get our first shipment pressed or you can buy one from us at a live show.
Here’s what’s on the cd….

“The Lost Soul ” originally recorded for Bloodshot Records’ 2005 compilation, For a Decade of Sin.
When it Rains,” was supposed to be on Twilight but somehow fell by the wayside.
“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” by Dylan, recorded for Uncut’s, Highway 61 Revisited Revisited.
“Snowball” originally released on Bloodshot’’s 2002 children’’s record, The Bottle Let Me Down.
“Ain’t No Grave” written by Brother Claude Ely.
“Little Buddy, one of our earliest attempts at songwriting (1993).
“Eleanor Rigby bluegrass version with the Rivet Gang.
“A Plague of Humans,” written for David Coulter’s “Plague Songs ” that took place at the Barbican in 2007.
“Famous Blue Raincoat” Leonard Cohen’s classic.
Drinking Beer on the Roof, an alternate to the “Red Leaf Forest. We realized later we liked these lyrics better.
“Telephones and Telescopes” originally released as a 7”” single by Speed Kills in 1992.
“The Lost Highway” most-famously recorded by Hank Williams. Our version’s from 2002.
“Honcho” is an instrumental recorded by Brett on 4-track in 1991.
“The Blizzard” by Harlan Howard, most-famously recorded by Jim Reeves.
What does the Deep Sea Say?” A traditional we first heard sung by The Blue Sky Boys.
“Tranquilized” is Brett’’s sad song about life post mental hospital. 1996.
June Bugs” (alternate take) this version has a certain magic we lost in the final mix released on Honey Moon.
One Way Up” (4-track demo) is an early (1990) 4-track version of a song later released on Odessa .

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This Frontier Needs Heroes – This Frontier Needs Heroes
Heroic Endeavours 2009

[tags: alt country, folk, southern gothic, 2009]

Listen while reading:

Leopard Eyes (from This Frontier Needs Heroes)

Pardon Me (from This Frontier Needs Heroes)

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I never heard of This Frontier Needs Heroes back in 2009 even though the brother-sister duo had notable success with their self-titled debut record. Brad and Jessica Lauretti from Brooklyn/New York played over 150 gigs throughout the US and even in Great Britain, they toured with The Handsome Family and with South China (two bands I really love) and their music sounds just like the next release you want to buy if you are into folk and alt country with a hint of southern gothic added.

As I first listened to the album I had a funny feeling which reminded me of Blanche, also an alt country, southern gothic band. But I can’t see why I was reminded of them because they sound way different. Maybe it’s because they also feature male and female vocals in their tracks – or maybe it is just the fact that This Frontier Needs Heroes had toured with The Handsome Family and Blanche is also a southern gothic band – who knows. What’s sure is that The Frontier Needs Heroes don’t sound like the first nor the latter. The Handsome Family is to synthesizer driven to be a good comparison and Blanche’s sound contains too much country stomping (what’s not true, but they are different). Enough with those comparisons, I’ll do a feature on Blanche sometime soon and then you can hear for yourself. (p.s. I think what makes the difference is the missing folk compound in The Handsome Family’s and Blanche’s music.)

Back to the actual album. Acoustic guitar play and the voice of Brad are two always present elements that are the foundation for some nice and interesting arrangements. Long, Gone for example with the spares percussions and the cool basslines attracts attention through the use of a flute that plays some kind of melody you hadn’t expected. Another example of an outstanding track is You Humble Me that refers to classical country ballads in sound, lyrics and chorus. This alone wouldn’t make it special, but if you realize the context that surrounds it, you can see that the band was anxious to produce a diverting album full of little gems. And this context is characterized by dark and deep tracks like Bend The Bow or the absolute fascinating Pardon Me sung by Brad and Jessica in two voices accompanied by slow and creeping instrumentation. But don’t get this wrong, it’s true, the overall atmosphere of the album is quite dark, notwithstanding the single tracks aren’t just melancholic or depressed. Hard to describe it, especially when there are tracks like No More War which are more rock with electronic guitar solos and stuff than alt country or folk. But songs like this are the exception and so there are no real stylistic breaks disturbing the listening pleasure.

As I wrote this, another idea came to my mind and as I checked it out, I saw that I was on the right track for I thought of Blackbird Harmony sounding a bit like This Frontier Needs Heroes. But this is just meant as a side note. In the end I simply suggest, that you will love This Frontier Needs Heroes if you like one, two or all of the above mentioned bands. And if you don’t know them, this album is a very good start to get into some alt country and southern gothic stuff. Although the album is not from 2010, I highly recommend giving a listen for I think you will hear quite a lot from Jessica and Brad in the future because their music is nothing you find every day. To buy a physical copy of the album, visit their personal homepage and to get the Mp3s you can head over to iTunes or amazon.com. MySpace them too and say hello or ask them out or whatever.

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The Handsome Family – Honey Moon
Carrot Top 2009

Listen while reading:

The Loneliness Of Magnets (from Honey Moon)

The Petrified Forest (from Honey Moon)

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Finally we arrive in 2009. And so did the current Handsome Family record Honey Moon. I wrote about it earlier over at Velours Carpets For Lovers but I think the review uses way to many unnecessary metaphors. Whatever, the main intension has not changed since I penned it and I can just repeat, that I think Honey Moon is one of the best albums of 2009. After Last Days Of Wonder they had to raise the ante once more and – well – they totally did. Using Brett’s powerful and multifarious voice they created some of the most memorable tracks in their history like Linger, Let Me Linger or The Loneliness Of Magnets in the style of the reviewed If The World Should End In Fire (from Singing Bones) or These Golden Jewels (from Last Days Of Wonder). Doing so they followed the more country orientated path I mentioned earlier that initialized the second phase, as I call it. But besides the above mentioned songs, Honey Moon is just full of wonderful tunes combining all aspects of the work of The Handsome Family up to this point. And because this combination works out so well, I think Honey Moon will be their last record that will ever reach the highs of Through The Trees (1998). Please don’t get me wrong, I really hope they will continue to write such beautiful and awesome music but if you were on the top of the Mount Everest it is hard to get any higher. And if you manage to do so, here I quote myself from my first review, you will ascend to the everlasting gods of music. Let’s hope they will ascend, but being realistic, Honey Moon seems to be the indestructible wall they built themselves. If you never ever checked out the music of the band I dedicated the last week to, I highly recommend to do so right now. Even though Honey Moon is not better than Through The Trees, it clearly is one of the few records I ever listened to that plays in the same league. So don’t wait and explore for yourself what alt. country or southern gothic is all about (in my opinion) and find you a charming sing along alt. country album with grandiose melodies which is full of mysteries and fables – and magic.

Brett and Rennie Sparks as The Handsome Family

So, dear Common Folk Meadow readers, I hope you liked my little journey to one of my all time favorite bands and I hope you found some nice music you enjoyed. Don’t wait and buy all of their albums because I think The Handsome Family wrote and is about to write music history. Be part of it (so to say). I think here is the right place to thank all my frie…no, just kidding…I just want to thank Rennie and Brett with all of my heart for making such great music and I wish them all the best for the future. Thank you!

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The Handsome Family – Last Days Of Wonder
Carrot Top 2006

Listen while reading:

Your Great Journey (from Last Days Of Wonder)

Bowling Alley Bar (from Last Days Of Wonder)

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„You’ve begun to dance the ghost dance, stray dogs gather in your yard. Your great journey has begun.” (from Your Great Journey) One of my favourite Handsome Family lines and a perfect example of how Brett and Rennie translate our everyday’s life into magical stories. This translation makes them becoming magnificent story tellers and every word they sing is just special. In my opinion Last Days Of Wonder is their best effort in writing unparalleled lyrics and wonderful little tales full of wonders and dreariness at the same time. But from a musical point of view I stand by my opinion that Through The Trees was their masterstroke because of the thousand-fold mentioned haunting atmosphere that was never reached again. But this is nothing surprising because I told you that their sound changed with Singing Bones from 2003 which marked the line between the haunting atmosphere sound and the new, more (classical) country orientated sound that came into flower the first time with Last Days Of Wonder. And saying so doesn’t mean that you find a totally changed band, but the main focus was clearly shifted. Although songs like These Golden Jewels featuring musical saw in a  good ol’ creeping way, they don’t affect the overall picture in a too strong manner. What is a bit humorous in this context is the track All The Time In Airports because the distorted guitar reminds of the 1996 published Milk And Scissors. As you see, Last Days Of Wonder is one wonderful record you could have your freaking fun with. And for this I would call it a splendid CD and a absolute highlight in the discography. Therefore it is very hard not to speak of it in such a praising way even though you may think I say so to every album. But you have no chance because, as I said in the first article on Odessa (1993), The Handsome Family is one of the best bands this world has to offer (in my little world). And if you ever have listened to their 2009 album Honey Moon you realize that – again, surprise!- they recorded an outstanding album no other band would have been able to record. But I will talk more about this topic tomorrow. Let me tell you a long story short: Last Days Of Wonder is an unbelievable record and it marks the first highlight in the second phase of the band (prefaced by Singing Bones and brought to perfection with Last Days Of Wonder). Would you believe me if I told you that they were able to again top this with Honey Moon (ignore the fact that I said so few lines above)? We’ll see tomorrow.

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The Handsome Family – Singing Bones
Carrot Top 2003

Listen while reading:

Dry Bones (from Singing Bones)

The Song Of The Hundred Toads (from Singing Bones)

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Another day another Handsome Family release. Today Singing Bones is our candidate for inspection. In my opinon Singing Bones is sort of a cutting line that seperates the “old” Handsome Family sound (including Through The Trees, In The Air and Twilight) and the new one (including Last Days Of Wonder and Honey Moon). Why is that so, you may ask. First of all I think Singing Bones is their most “traditional” country album and they sound how a country band should sound if it does well. This is the first thing that is salient if you still have the sound of Twilight in your ears. At the same time you can find songs that sound like the ones of the earlier albums, for example The Bottomless Hole, the title track or The Forgotten Lake with the well known hauting and spooky atmosphere. But this area of tension got something else to offer that points towards the coming albums. It’s a capella tracks like If The World Should End In Fire or If The World Should End In Ice that suggest intense voice effort and concentration especially found on Honey Moon represented by its opener Linger, Let Me Linger. But what does this clash to the album itself? It’s surprising that I think this clash is not a typical clash because you don’t have the feeling of listening to some motley squabbling but to a first class country album, as I said above. Rennie and Brett managed to combine all the different styles to one coherent album that really fits the discography very well. But this isn’t really unexpected because as a band they surly did not think about how they sounded before and what they will sound like after Singing Bones and so they just recorded the tracks as they thought would be best. Only now you can apply such reflections and maybe discover similarities and differences but as the album was made I bet this wasn’t a though of interest and so comes it that the album sounds just complete as any other album of them. I don’t know why, but every time I listen to Singing Bones I got the feeling that they created something really special with it but then I can not tell why I think so and what it is  that makes it so special…ok, you can say it is the whole atmosphere but with such saying there is nothing and all said at the same time…but this is maybe the best you can do because I can’t think of another criteria that would not apply to the other records as well. So in the end I tell you that Siging Bones is – again – the hell of a great record and if you’re interested in the Handsome Family you maybe should listen to this as the second album after you started with Through The Trees. There is a 95 percent chance that you will find a band you will love your whole life if you really like the two mentioned records – I can tell you.

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The Handsome Family – Twilight
Carrot Top 2001

The Handsome Family - Twilight

Listen while reading:

Passenger Pigeons (from Twilight)

The White Dog (from Twilight)

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We arrived in 2001 and so did the fifth regular full length Twilight. And you can call me a fool but I said In The Air would sound more vital and maybe a bit more catchy and not as haunting as Through The Trees. And that’s right and you maybe call it sounding airy. Do you get what I mean? The airy sound and the album title, In The Air, right…and now look at the title of the 2001 album, Twilight – yap…You can tell that the album must sound different than In The Air just by reading the title – and it seems to be true because the overall picture of the record is again more haunting and myterious. At the same time they use the keyboards in a very expressive and generous manner (as they did on In The Air) wherefore I would call Twilight the perfect combination of Through The Trees and In The Air. But I can imagine that this is a bit of a challenge for some listeners because you mustn’t forget that we still talk about a form of country music here. And I think there are other genres who are easier to digest than some mixture consiting of country, spooky atmosphere and relentless keyboard usage. But, and this should be a big BUT, don’t judge the music only because of the words you read, take the time and give a good listen to it and you will see the beauty of it. And before I continue writing about Twilight itself, I have an advice for you: Never, and I really mean never, use a track you like as the melodie your alarmclock will play to wake you up. Not only that you develope a certain hate against it but you ruining your album experience at least forever because your mind will get in a very freaky condition if you listen to the same track in a regular way and you say to yourself that there is no point of hating this track because it sounds like super cool but your body is in a real rush for it is the cursed sound you hear everytime you have to get up. Believe me, this is nothing you want to feel ever in your whole life – and I can tell you because I can’t listen to Cold, Cold, Cold in a normal fashion anymore because of my stupidity. But hey, what’s done is done, right? Arrrgg…Ok, back to topic. As you listen to Twilight and you know the other releases that followed this record you can perceive certain characteristics of the following albums. For example the track Birds You Cannot See – I think it points towards songs like The Loneliness Of Magnets from their 2009 release Honey Moon. But I think I will do this in retrospect when we arrive there. In the end I think Twilight eredicated the weaknesses (if you call them so) of In The Air and proved that The Handsome Family was back in their full capacity combining the best moments of In The Air with the characteristics of their masterpiece Through The Trees to bring some first class unique sounding alt. country, call it southern gothic, into being.

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The Handsome Family – In The Air
Carrot Top 2000

The Handsome Family - In The Air

Listen while reading:

In The Air (from In The Air)

Grandmother Waits For You (from In The Air)

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As you may have realized I’m quite excited with Through The Trees and so every following album must stand the comparison with this gorgeous record. And the first thing that is conspicuous listening to In The Air is that they decided to leave the “mysterious sounding” path and went on to another track. It could seem that they intended to make the whole thing a bit more of a sing along experience. This maybe sounds pejorative but isn’t meant this way because the title track is one of my all time favourite songs of them. It’s just that they varied their sound into something new and one could say it is another step forward but I’m not quiet this opinion for I see tracks like Lie Down, A Beautiful Thing or the uber haunting Poor, Poor Lenore and I know that they are all the same even though they sound more fresh and vital than ever. The difference in their sound may be a result of the immense application of the keyboards – they are more apparent and so they add another quality to the album. But even this seems not quite right. However, I must say that In The Air is a very good album but it plays in another category than Through The Trees – and not many other records are in this category I think. A good friend, Lutz, once told me (and he is not quite a fan of this music at all) that In The Air sounds like what you can call Schlager music – the fact that I remember this statement means that something true lies in it and I think it could be what I called sing along experience. Indeed they got some catchy lines and easy structures sometimes and therefore you might call it so – but if you do so, you should be aware of the whole musical context of the album. I’m not willing to accept such a point of view if it is meant to make fun of the music they make – but I could accept it if one referrs to the overall structure of it and the composition of the tracks. In the end I have the secret thought that Rennie and Brett had a little off-time writing In The Air but made the best of it. And if you ask me if this album is worth to be in the catalog of such a great band, the answer only can be: yes and dang yes!

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