The coyotes howl, the dust blows dark outside the truck stop. And everybody dies before they’re ready.
The Handsome Family are husband and wife Brett and Rennie Sparks, and they sing country songs. This album, rather aptly subtitled ‘A treasury of their most willowy and haunted songs’, lassoes together the high points of the Family‘s back catalogue – consisting of two previous LPs, released only in America. And if what they’ve got back home is anywhere near as fine as this, the rest of the alt-country cavalry might as well hang up their hats.
. ‘Arlene’ features the sort of gothic homicide PJ Harvey would covet and the chilling pathos of ‘My Sister’s Tiny Hands’ would make Nick Cave weep with envy.
The songs are classic in composition, harking back to traditional American folk songs like ‘Clementine’ as well as the good ol’ boy balladeering of Cash and Willie Nelson. Yet they are shot through with a perverse humour, intelligence and poignancy that turns the wilful small-mindedness of the country music genre on its head.