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The Handsome Family On Mountain Stage

Brett and Rennie Sparks of The Handsome Family play at Mountain Stage.
Brian Blauser
Mountain Stage
Brett and Rennie Sparks of The Handsome Family play at Mountain Stage.

The roots of The Handsome Family tree are planted in the New Mexico hometown of husband and wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks. With Brett's distinct, rich baritone vocals delivering the imaginative, noir lyrics written by Rennie, the members of The Handsome Family perform songs from throughout their career in this Mountain Stage set recorded in Summer 2018. They're joined here by regular touring members Alex McMahon on lead guitar and Jason Toth on percussion and omnichord.

Millions became familiar with the band's music in 2014 when HBO used "Far From Any Road," from its 2003 album Singing Bones, as the theme music for the first season of True Detective. Included here, Rennie says the song was written about fire ants in the driveway of their home in New Mexico.

"I got bitten so badly I felt like I could hear the queen of the ants calling me," Rennie says. "Then, 12 years later, it became the new theme song to a show about cops in Louisiana."

The band has built its success the DIY way, with albums recorded mostly in the members' home and many of its music videos, like those for "Back In My Day" and "Weightless Again," are compiled and directed by Rennie herself. Others have recorded The Handsome Family's songs over the years, including Jeff Tweedy, Christy Moore and Andrew Bird, to name a few.

The "third saddest Christmas Song of all time," as Rennie says, is called "So Much Wine," which she promises "is going to ruin Christmas for all of you. The song appears on the band's definitive 1998 album Through the Trees, which was treated to a 20th anniversary re-issue in 2018 with outtakes, photos of the sessions and liner notes from Bird.

"Back In My Day" from the band's most recent album of new material, Unseen, seems to reflect the family's resistance to technology. "My husband has been wearing the same Casio watch from 1974," Reenie says introducing the final number. "No twitting, no tumbling either" Brett responds. "None of that."

"The Bottomless Hole" (from Singing Bones)

"So Much Wine" (from In the Air)

"Weightless Again" (from Through the Trees)

"Far From Any Road" (From Singing Bones)

"Back in My Day" (From Unseen)

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Adam is a native of Greenbrier County and graduated from Radford University in 2005 with a degree in Music Business and minor in Media Studies. After completing an internship with Mountain Stage, he was hired as Assistant Producer in October 2005. He became Executive Producer when his predecessor and co-founder Andy Ridenour retired in August 2011.