Playbill

Despite the name, there's little that's attractive about the music of this husband-and-wife duo. Brett (he of the droning vocals and subdued guitar/mandolin work) and Rennie (she of the lyrical lyrics, backing vocals and autoharp) Sparks have carved a unique niche in the Americana genre with their dirgelike Southern gothic tales of love, murder, despair and gloom.

As the Velvet Underground reflected the glorious decadence of Andy Warhol's Factory, so the Sparkses call to mind the sinister bizarro world of David Lynch on the Family's fifth effort, Twilight (Carrot Top). Though the album doesn't reach the artistic levels of the band's previous disc, In the Air, there are a number of quiet but disturbing items here: "The Snow White Diner," in which patrons watch as a car carrying the dead bodies of a suicidal woman and her two small kids is pulled from a lake; "Cold, Cold, Cold," where a weeping woman howls by the roadside only to disappear in the blinding snow; and "Birds You Cannot See," where illusory winged creatures alight on the hands of dying men.

It's Rennie's beautiful, tragic and poetic words that really (as usual) stand out, but the grim groom and his brooding bride aren't without a twisted sense of humor. In "So Long," Brett woefully sings good-bye to a variety of creatures, including his dog Snickers who ate Christmas tinsel, a seagull he beaned with a rock, and "everything I burned with a magnifying lens that long, lonely summer when I was only ten." If the languid, rural-dwelling Handsomes have any elder musical relations, they go by the names of Delmore, Carter, Louvin and Stanley. And that's not too shabby a list of kin to have in your family Bible.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero