HONEY MOON REVIEWS...

BBC
METRO, UK
ALL MUSIC GUIDE
BILLBOARD
BLURT
DAILY MIRROR
INDEPENDENT, UK
JAMBASE
METRO, UK
NOW, TORONTO
PITCHFORK
Q MAGAZINE, UK
SCENE MAGAZINE, CANADA
SUNDAY TIMES, UK
TIME OUT, LONDON
GREENMAN REVIEW





   
News that Brett and Rennie Sparks – better known as The Handsome Family –– were to mark their 20th anniversary together as husband and wife with an album of love songs raised eyebrows rather than expectations. Was celebratory love a suitable subject for the dour, gothically inclined couple once memorably described as ''the Gomez and Morticia Adams of country music''?
    Well, apparently it was. Although the dozen songs that make up Honey Moon, the couple's ninth album together, are far from what you might expect of billet doux. Peppered with jolts of danger and hints of regret, their dark-hued lyricism revels in the kind of mysterious, immersive intrigue that corkscrews its way through affairs of the heart when opposites attract and Cupid comes calling.
    Until now, the flame that has burned for the Sparks has been dark and chill, the sensibility owing more to the slicing blue heat of an oxyacetylene torch than to the cosseting warmth of scented candles. But while Honey Moon finds The Handsome Family broadening its definition of romance and the romantic to accommodate a lighter tone and more filigree textures, you'll be relieved to know that troublesome undercurrents continue to tug at and tear the surface.
Happily (as it were) melancholy still seeps from every musical pore, rococo imagery still saturates every lyric, cryptic allusions and direct references to the world as observed by the Sparks remain deliciously imagistic and weird. The Dixie Chicks this ain't!
    There's a burnt beauty to Honey Moon – something akin to Mark Twain re-written by Edgar Allan Poe – that exerts a deliciously morbid pull on the imagination and the emotions. Satisfaction is guaranteed.
Michael Quinn, BBC, United Kingdom
2009-04-17

***************************************************************


   
A 20th wedding anniversary occasioned this appropriately-titled eighth album from the king and queen of country noir, Brett and Rennie Sparks, and it's as bathed in languid sunshine as its predecessor was steeped in graveyard Gothic.
Love is in the air, albeit of a tenderly melancholic kind, and the velvet-coated opener. 'Linger, Let Me Linger' smoothly sets Honey Moon's 1950s lounge-jazz vibe.
    The magic realist darkness of previous albums may be less in evidence and one wonders if this eccentric duo sound rather too comfortable amid such sweet, alfresco musical motifs. Yet the odd, bucolic lyrical references add piquancy to the enchanted journeys through the landscape of the heart.
CLAIRE ALLFREE, METRO, United Kingdom

***************************************************************



Is there an act more inscrutable than Albuquerque's Handsome Family, alt-country's equivalent of the famous Grant Wood painting "American Gothic"? Husband-and-wife team Brett and Rennie Sparks hole up in their garage studio for long stretches, surfacing publicly every few years with their latest recording to accept the kudos of Americana aficionados everywhere, then retreat once more to their solitude. The music on their eighth studio album since forming in '93—a melange of classic-era Nashville ("Wild Wood"), '50s Tin Pan Alley and doo-wop ("Linger, Let Me Linger"), and Memphis soul balladry ("My Friend")—is equally veiled, Brett warbling Rennie's pastoral lyrics about lingering kisses, lonely songbirds and reverse-anthropomorphism in an expressive baritone equal parts George Jones and Bing Crosby. Who are these people, you wonder? Though answers don't come easily, the process of getting to know them is fascinating nonetheless.—FM , Billboard Magazine, April 19, 2009


***************************************************************



The United Kingdom's Daily Mirror
The Handsome Family
Honey Moon, 4/5
Country's odd couple continue to make strangely twisted but emotionally
ravishing music. This silky and mysterious offering mixes songs about love
and nature with wry humour, dark longing with a little of what's sweet and
sticky. Yum!



***************************************************************



The first song Brett and Rennie Sparks wrote together, the still heartbreaking 'Arlene', was a ballad in which a guy fell in love with a girl, took her to a cave, and bashed her head in with a stick. From the start, they had the un-icky love song thing nailed. Two decades and countless bloody endings and inexplicably beautiful moments later, the blackly-comic alt.country Albuquerque couple are releasing an album to celebrate their twentieht year of marriage. And while it's more of a mood piece than previous outings (the mood being surreal swoonsomeness), tracks like "The Loneliness of Magnets' are fitting testimony to one of music's most madly romantic partnerships
Bella Todd, Time Out, London



***************************************************************



Brett and Rennie celebrate 20 years of marriage with their eight album of gothic country. As always the huanted lyrics bear a quaintness that seems so arcaaic you can almost hear the cogs whirring away inside. Lovers collide and separate, kiss and sigh, pleasd and remonstrate in the most romatic ways, to an accompaniemetn of guitars, pedal steel, banjos, brushed drums and piano. Brett's baritone either tenderly croons (as on Linger, Let me Linger, June bugs,and Love is Liek) or wails like a bowed saw (The Loneliness of Magnets). If it all sounds oh-so-ironic, it isn't: the Handsomes may existon country's odd ball fringe, bu they're no comedy act. Andy Fyfe, Q Magazine, United Kingdom






THE HANDSOME FAMILY • HONEY MOON (MINT)
Scene Magazine, Canada
For the uninitiated, The Handsome Family is the husband and wife duo of Brett and Rennie Sparks, whose brand of out-of-kilter country has made them critic favourites over the last 15 years. Featuring the crooning of Brett and some of the strangest, darkest and morbid lyrics, this side of Nick Cave penned by Rennie, the band may not be for everyone, but their ninth release is wonderful. Honey Moon celebrates the Sparks’ 20 years of marriage with a set of love songs, a little more cheerful than their usual fare, but still chock full of bizarre irony with songs like ‘The Loneliness of Magnets.’ Written from a praying mantis’ point of view, ‘Darling, My Darling’ is another prime example of just what the Handsome Family are about. “Darling my darling your snapping fangs don’t scare me/I’ll leap on your spine and love you till you gnaw me down to my wings.” Now, that’s love. – Dave Clarke   

***************************************************************




The Handsome Family
Honey Moon (Mint/Carrot Top)
CARLA GILLIS
NOW TORONTO, April 16, 2009
    The eighth studio album by Albuquerque’s Handsome Family commemorates the 20th
wedding anniversary of Brett and Rennie Sparks, the band’s two members. As such,
it’s an album of love songs, making it a departure from the Gothic Americana
subject matter of past efforts, which, the joke goes, always included at least
one dead body.
    Though the songs, which effortlessly blend country, bluegrass, folk and pop, are
mostly under three minutes long, no one’s in a rush here. Each is gently
strummed, sparsely drummed and deeply crooned by Brett. Rennie takes care of the
lyrics (and a few sweet harmonies) and deftly avoids love’s clichés, comparing
it instead to paper cups rolling down a windy street, a hole in the roof where
an old sugar pine fell through, the sun glinting off a pickup truck’s smashed
windshield.

***************************************************************


The Handsome Family, namely Rennie and Brett Sparks, may be this era's Les Paul and Mary Ford, a creative coupling that transmutes the intimacy of a marriage into music of tingling, romantic closeness. Though champs at death songs and cloudy conjecture, Honey Moon (released April 14 on Carrot Top) is, at the core, about the ache to connect, understanding that it's in others we find completion even if it's not always obvious where our roots will meet along our respective family trees.

I am the puddles in the street waiting for your leaves
Twine your vines around me, drop your branches in my path
Linger, let me linger

Brett's voice is a kind cousin to John Doe and Jim Lauderdale, one of those husky tools for getting pure song across, and Rennie adds some sweet dew to his petals. Honey Moon is their most relaxed, unhurried offering yet, and as such may not grab you right away. But, the Jonathan Richman-meets-Johnny Cash under a blue moon croon of "My Friend" or the old school Opry feel of "When You Whispered" have a way of seeping into you, and the rest filter in, too, over time. There's a simplicity, or perhaps better put, a purity of form to the music on Honey Moon, where no stray elements enter and what's offered feels carefully determined. If one could send a copy of this back in time to Hank Williams I'm certain he'd listen to it a bunch.

For all the lovey-dovey vibe, this never feels syrupy, with Rennie's lyrics circumventing cliché with unique similes ("Love is like a white moth sipping tears from a sleeping bird) and an adroit tactility that lures one into their personal space ("When we were together I lay in your river/ as the fish swam through my hands). Love songs will always provide the bedrock of popular music. The push-and-pull of our hearts makes that inevitable, but rarely these days is the subject matter handled with this level of skilled delicacy or homespun personality   --- Dennis Cook, Jambase


***************************************************************


Brett and Rennie Sparks have been recording together as the Handsome Family for 14 years now, but they've been married for 20. To mark their china anniversary, the couple are foregoing a retrospective of their seven studio albums (although they're certainly due) in favor of a brand-new Family album, fittingly titled Honey Moon. Rather than dwell on country gothic doom and despair, they've recorded all manner of love songs-- odes to sex, devotion, redemption, sacrifice, New Mexico, and more sex-- that are only slightly sunnier than their usual fare. But don't expect corny sentiments even from a song called "Love Is Like": Even commemorating two decades together, they indulge the dark edges of these eccentric and personal songs, as if love is all that keeps the abyss at bay. Love is like, Brett sings, "a black fly buzzing in the sun" or "the hole torn right through the roof."

Nevertheless, even at its most ruminative, Honey Moon sounds like a celebratory record, a document of the ups and downs that define any marriage. As if responding to the airports and strip malls of 2006's Last Days of Wonder, these new songs are so full of woodsy imagery that they make Neko Case seem urbane. The only modern edifices here are the pawnshops and neon signs on "A Thousand Diamond Rings", and they are transformed into a romantic setting by the "watermelon light" of the sun setting over the desert. Nothing stands out as boldly as "Weightless Again" on Through the Trees or "Tesla's Hotel Room" on Last Days, but the lighter mood suits them sweetly.

"Darling my darling, look at my waving antennae," sings Brett on "Darling, My Darling". There may be a dick joke hidden in that opening line, but there's more Henry Miller than Franz Kafka as the songs follows the man-as-bug metaphor to its logical conclusion: "I'll leap on your spine and love you till you gnaw me down to my wings/ I'll give you everything." That the songs comes across as sweetly romantic and devoted until death-- as opposed to either showy or creepy-- is a testament both to Rennie's skillful threading of words into images and Brett's sensitive translation of words on a page into vocals.

In the Handsome Family, Brett and Rennie divide musical duties the way some couples assign household chores. Blessed with a humble, hollowed-out-like-a-tree-trunk baritone, he does most of the singing. An accomplished novelist and poet, she does most of the songwriting. On Honey Moon, Rennie displays a typically observant eye for the small details that become portentous with meaning: A flock of birds beckons thoughts of escape, a sunset changes their world for just a few minutes each day, and a cement mixer inspires existential ponderings. Brett and the extended Family set her deep thoughts to sparse arrangements with subtle animating flourishes like the dreamy 1950s rock piano of "Linger, Let Me Linger", Dave Gutierrez's spidery dobro on "When You Whispered", or Brett's hoarse whistle on "The Loneliness of Magnets".

Interestingly for a group most commonly associated with story-based songs, Honey Moon sheds all narrative concerns for more descriptive language. Even "When You Whispered", whose title implies a mystery about what exactly was whispered, is less worried over the quiet verbal exchange than the scenery around them: the wind on the bridge, the ripples of water beneath, the frogs on the shore. The album is full of similar tableaux: These songs are dioramas depicting the New Mexico wilderness as a reverberation of the couple's desires.
— Stephen M. Deusner, April 27, 2009, Pitchfork

***************************************************************



As a 20th wedding-anniversary gift, Brett and Rennie Sparks have given themselves an album of love songs

Though being by The Handsome Family, they're love songs with a curious purchase on the mystical undercurrents of reality, pivoting on those points where the natural world rubs up against intimations of spirituality. Sung by Brett in the booming baritone of a backwoods preacher, Rennie's songs quiver with intimate detail, whether it's the way that sunlight causes even the most mundane things to glitter, or some deeper mystery seeping through the cracks between the real and the imagined.

In the opener, "Linger, Let Me Linger", the protagonist's senses are heightened by love, finding magic in metaphors drawn from nature – a spider, a sycamore, vines and so on – and in tenuous, everyday observations of things such as slow-moving cars or a woman's sobbing. Set to waltz-time piano and queasy violin, it sounds as much like a hymn as a love song, but then so does most of The Handsome Family's material.

A similar apprehension of numinosity pervades "Little Sparrows" and "When You Whispered". In the former, everything from ants to paper cups is invested with some volitional power that might help the singer achieve transcendence. The latter song dips slightly into bathos for its effect, with banjo and dobro plunking bashfully as if intruding upon a private moment: "You leaned in closer as the sun fell away/ A plastic bag trembled, caught in the waste/ When you whispered what you whispered in my ear."

"My Friend" touches on the lost-souls territory of the duo's Singing Bones and Last Days of Wonder albums, with birdsong high in a forest canopy and the slither of pondweed against a swimmer's body perceived as ghostly communication. The most startling track is "The Loneliness of Magnets", in which Brett stridently tests the upper limit of his range as he comes over all Wordsworthian: "My heart is a beating compass, pointing to the pole... I am the dark valley calling to the trembling mountain peak." It's a new and terrifying take on hearts and flowers, with romantic clichés re-invested with a power appropriate to love's earth-moving effect.

Small wonder that the couple should seek light-hearted refuge in the "stinking bog" of "Wild Wood", an exercise in nostalgie de la boue that finds them fantasising about love, Stone Age-style: "We can dress in skins, wrap our feet in bark/ And you can growl at me or hit me with a rock/ When you want to say 'I love you' in the dark/ And I will bark like a dog in your arms." Awww! How sweet!
Album: The Handsome Family, Honey Moon (Loose)
(Rated 4/ 5 )
Reviewed by Andy Gill
Friday, 17 April
The Independent, United Kingdom


***************************************************************



To celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary, the alt-country stalwarts Brett and Rennie Sparks have temporarily averted their gaze from death and dark things and fashioned an album of love songs. The range of idioms that this sunny topic has inspired is their widest yet. From doo-wop to bluegrass and vintage Tin Pan Alley, with a dollop of Gram Parsons-style country-rock, the Handsomes seem tremendously energised by pop’s oldest subject. The melancholy undertow to their harmonies is still audible and their trademark lyrical obliquity is well to the fore in titles such as The Petrified Forest and The Loneliness of Magnets. But the pair have never sounded more mutually enraptured than they do on When You Whispered, or Darling, My Darling, and the playful quality to June Bugs suggests that, after eight albums, there is still much for the Sparkses to explore.
The Sunday Times, United Kingdom
April 12, 2009
Robert Sandall

***************************************************************


 

Since the release of their debut record in 1995 (Odessa) the Handsome Family (married couple Brett and Rennie Sparks) have explored the depths of the human soul with songs about drifters, murderers, and even Aunt Barbara "who went crazy in the 70's, wrote poems to Jimmy Carter but forgot to feed her kids" (from "Lake Geneva on 1996's Milk and Scissors) and on this, record #8, they do not disappoint. This  record was written to celebrate their 20 years of marriage and as someone who has been married for not even half that long I toast them for their longevity - and the music, too.  The band's music has been called Gothic Americana and that seems as good a place to start as any, Brett writes the music and sings most of the sings while Rennie writes the lyrics (she doesn't forget the dark humor) and they have rounded up a batch of terrific musicians in their adopted hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico (where they moved to several years ago after many years in Chicago).
 
The songs on Honey Moon are just a gorgeously haunting as anything they have done previously. The opener "Linger, Let Me Linger" adds some lovely cello to the proceedings (which already include Brett's rich baritone) while "Little Sparrows' adds some zippy pedal steel which gives it a completely different feel. "When You Whispered" is pure Carter Family country and the nearly perfect, "A Thousand Diamond Rings" is the record's best song (that has a murky, Calexico-ish feel to it but these guys were doing this stuff long before Calexico).  Yet another terrific chapter in a book that I hope these guys never finish.
 04/21/2009
Blurt Magazine


***************************************************************

Since releasing their first album in 1995, Brett and Rennie Sparks of the Handsome Family have built a cottage industry out of creating some of the most charmingly morbid songs in contemporary music; death, despair, alcohol, broken dreams, and dashed hopes are common ingredients in their songs, leavened with dark wit and dressed up in lovely, austere melodies and close Appalachian-flavored harmonies. But with Brett and Rennie celebrating 20 years as husband and wife, they decided to try something a bit different for their eighth studio album, and 2009's Honey Moon is a collection of 12 non-ironic songs about love. If you're expecting that this is going to be a bit sunnier than the usual offering from the Handsome Family, you're right, but that's not to say that odd little clouds don't appear on the horizon. In "Little Sparrows," the literal lovebirds of the title are watching cars from a highway overpass, "A Thousand Diamond Rings" opens with a litany of urban detritus such as broken-down trucks and smashed windows, "Darling My Darling" is sung in the voice of an insect attempting to seduce a female of the species, and "The Loneliness of Magnets" uses elementary physics as a metaphor for romance. The Handsome Family aren't exactly rewriting "You Light Up My Life" here, but they're not rewriting their previous albums, either; Honey Moon is the duo's most eclectic album to date, with Brett and Rennie cautiously embracing the sound of classic pop ballads ("Linger, Let Me Linger"), vintage R&B ("My Friend"), Tin Pan Alley crooning ("The Loneliness of Magnets"), and electronic pop ("Love Is Like") along with the traditional country and folk influences. Despite the new textures, Honey Moon still sounds like the Handsome Family, but a version of the Handsome Family that hasn't abandoned the notion of hope, and by the time "The Winding Corn Maze" closes out the album, you're not entirely shocked that the protagonist actually finds who he's been looking for amidst the stalks. On first listen, anyone familiar with the Handsome Family will keep waiting for someone to die or go insane as if wondering when the shoe will drop, but ultimately Honey Moon proves they can ease into more optimistic surroundings and not lose touch with the strange and ethereal qualities that have made them worthwhile.
by Mark Deming, All Music Guide











***************************************************************


The press release accompanying The Handsome Family's eighth album, Honey Moon, makes much of the fact that 2009 marks Brett and Rennie Sparks's 20th anniversary. Indeed the songs on this album all qualify as love songs, but then I believe nearly all of the songs on their previous seven albums could, too. Sometimes they are love songs to ghosts that live in supermarkets, or to crumbling, empty shopping malls, or even to bottomless holes. And, true, a lot of people die in those songs. But in the minutely observed poetry of Rennie's lyrics and the mock-portentous delivery of Brett's marvelous bass-baritone, The Handsome Family's songs are odes of love to the human condition in all its manifestations, from dark to whimsical.

All this love is on full display in Honey Moon, right from the opening of the first track, "Linger, Let Me Linger." A single chord on a nylon-stringed guitar gives the key, and then Brett sings the introductory verse almost free-form, accompanied only by that strumming guitar: "Like the thorn bush twines against the chain link fence / like the spider spins its links between the trees / and the lonely sycamore bends to the breeze . . ." From the title and that intro, you expect a parlor ballad, and that's almost what you get. It's a parlor ballad crossed with a melancholy swamp pop love song, for at this point a piano enters, playing sets of triplets that are typical of the genre, while in the background a cello moans softly.From there through 11 more songs, the album is a sometimes giddy, often lush journey through an Americana book of love songs. As Brett explains in the press release, "Since we decided that all the songs would address the same theme (love), I decided that musically each one should be distinct to avoid the pitfalls of other records of this ilk. Each song should be its own world, have its own style. So it's a record of 12 self-contained entities."Brett and Rennie sing and play most of the parts themselves, although on this album Stephen Dorocke plays lap steel and guitar, Dave Gutierrez classical guitar and dobro, and Jason Toth drums.Indeed. From the country shuffle of "Little Sparrows" to the slow gospel burn of "My Friend," complete with B-3 organ, to the jazzy swing of "The Loneliness of Magnets" and the bluegrass duet of "When You Whispered," there's plenty of variety. Uniting it all, in addition to the theme of love, is Rennie's organic poetry in which a longing for and close observation of nature plays a major role. "When you fly away from here / take me with you when you go," is the repeated refrain of "Little Sparrows." "You leaned in closer as the sun fell away / a plastic bag trembled, caught in the waves / when you whispered what you whispered in my ear," go the lyrics in "When You Whispered," its sing-song tune drawn from American folk forms. "I know the sky blue longing of a cloud of spiraling birds / all turning in an instant, a perfect spinning whirl," sings Brett at his most stentorian in "Magnets." "A Thousand Diamond Rings" is a love song to their new hometown, Albuquerque, and an ode to the way our feelings about a person or place can transform the way we see it: "Sunset's a bird with wings made out of fire / parking lots turn to gold as it glides across the sky." "June Bugs," a slow waltz, is a love song to springtime and the lusty kind of love we feel in that new season: "I want to kiss you in thickets and dripping wet glades / as the stars rub against the dark skin of space." The loping shuffle of "Wild Wood" is a comic romp through naive back-to-nature hippiedom, in which even poisonous plants are special. "You can growl and hit me with a rock / when you want to say I love you in the dark," Brett sings, and you don't know if it's ironic or slyly wise or naively simple.

Happy 20th anniversary to Brett and Rennie Sparks; the rest of us got a gift, this new CD.
Greenman Review