October 03, 2002

Handsome Family "Smothered and Covered"

The advances in home recording and duplicating will bear some interesting, enjoyable fruit. Niche artists, who have a loyal fanbase, once had to either petition their favorite cult band's labels in order to get them to even consider odds-and-sods collections, and almost always to no avail. To be fair to the record label, why should they spend tens of thousands of dollars to release a record that's not going to sell, except to a rabid few?

With the advent of CD-R technology, now record labels aren't necessary. If an artist wants to release their own tour CD or their own odds-and-sods collections, or, hell, their own albums, they can very easily do so--especially if the band's one of a more experimental nature. You can probably rest assured that bands like Calexico, Lambchop, His Name is Alive, and Acid Mothers Temple are probably seeing more money from their little homemade records than they would from their regular album releases! (In fact, Lambchop are particularly guilty of this; they have released TONS of great, beautiful music on highly-limited "tour-only" CD's that are impossible to find)

Albuquerque husband and wife duo of Rennie and Brett Sparks, better known as The Handsome Family, have been making dark country music for many a moon now. Of course, with nearly a 20-year long career, you're gonna end up with a bunch of songs that just really don't have any other home. Thankfully, they've decided to settle the matter on their own, and have created an odd little collection, and it's mostly a pleasure.

Quibbles first: there are a number of instrumental parts that are, well...bad. "Prepared Piano" and "Cello" selections are artsy selections that just really call for skipping over. Actually, that's about my only quibble with Smothered and Covered. Besides those four little unlistenables, there's a treasure trove of country love to be found. As the title implies, there are numerous covers, all of them lovely; I'm partial to "I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling" and "Knoxville Girl" (both of which were on Bloodshot samplers). There are a few originals here that are excellent, like "Natalie Wood," and you can't help but laugh when you hear their anti-christmas Christmas carol, "Stupid Bells."

I don't know what it was that inspired me to have this be my first Handsome Family purchase, but I really have fallen in love with the music on this little limited-edition baby. While I'm sure the band wouldn't consider this a starting place for their work, I'm glad I took the step and picked this up. Seek this little curiosity out, and get a taste of the country--the dark, unreleased side of one of today's well-regarded alt-country (whatever that is) bands.

This release is available directly from the band at handsomefamily.com

--Joseph Kyle

No comments: