THE HANDSOME FAMILY, DANIEL KNOX
CLUB CONGRESS, Wednesday, July 29
With easy beats, soothing harmonies and a twang brushed with plenty of Southwestern grit, the Handsome Family play a timeless brand of country music—if not exactly traditional, it's certainly pure, free of alt or rock hybridization.
Brett and Rennie Sparks, the husband-and-wife team fronting this band, have been at it for more than 20 years, building a reputation for dark and brooding storytelling.
While the Handsome Family still trades in the country music of dark abysses, snakebites, family fights on Christmas and dusty pickup trucks, Wednesday's show highlighted songs from Honey Moon, the band's newest album. And the Handsome Family's freshest batch of tunes have a sort of swelling beauty that perfectly fits the Sparks' classic male-female harmonies, whether they're love songs about insects or insect songs about love.
Perhaps fending off some of the sweetness of the new songs, Rennie Sparks joked between songs that "sometimes people get a skin rash when they see us; sometimes it's blurred vision."
"A Thousand Diamond Rings" is about the pawnshops, neon signs and wrinkled faces of their hometown, and finding beauty in spite of it all: "Even the broken glass shattered in the street shines like a thousand diamond rings.
The band dipped into older songs late in the set, including the first song they wrote together, "Arlene," from 1995's Odessa, and an encore of "I Know You Are There" from 2001's Twilight, with an opening line as dark as they come: "When the rope of death strangles, and dark waters roar and foam."
Opener Daniel Knox—solo on the piano or leading a sharp combo with bass and brushed drums—has a style that starts lounge-y and veers toward the theatrical, with occasional flourishes from a kazoo he pulled from behind his ear.
His skewed and darkly humorous lyrics give songs about gambling, murder and a porno booth in Indiana plenty of unexpected twists. "Ghostsong," about a dead guy eternally harassing the object of his affection, is as spooky as it is funny.
The fact that Knox has a golden croon straight out of midcentury Hollywood makes his act—and lyrics like, "Darling, I hate you with a kiss"—that much more captivating.
The Handsome Family - When You Whispered
And check out this great live set from Daytrotter