The Handsome Family - Odessa
The Loose label release The Handsome Family's first two records, 'Odessa' (1995) and 'Milk & Scissors' (1996), on vinyl LP.
This is the first time these records have been available on vinyl in Europe.
Husband-and-wife duo the Handsome Family have been labeled both alt-country and traditionalist, but truthfully their often dark music lies in a unique space somewhere in between, blending the sounds of traditional country and bluegrass (and, especially, murder ballads) into a more modern scenery.
Vocalist and composer Brett Sparks hails from Texas, where he studied music and briefly worked around the oil rigs. By the mid-'90s, he resided in Chicago with his wife Rennie Sparks, a fiction writer originally from Long Island. Brett persuaded Rennie to write lyrics for him, leading to the unusual and striking form of the Handsome Family's songs -- evocative scenes and brief tales (of both the daydream and ghost-story varieties) in lieu of the standard verse-chorus-verse structure.
The Handsome Family's debut album, entitled Odessa, was released in January 1995 on the independent label Carrot Top. This first home recording (all of the Handsome Family's albums are recorded in their living room) had slight punk shadings not heard on their subsequent albums. Odessa unfortunately made few waves except for some radio stations' ban on the second song, "Arlene," which is about a woman who gets bludgeoned to death. But their second album came soon afterwards and the rest is history.
The Handsome Family's first album certainly stands apart from their later work; at this point, the group still had a live drummer, they were playing more rock-oriented material (the noisy guitars on 'Here's Hopin'' and 'One Way Up' would have sounded rather out of place on Through the Trees), and there's a bit more upfront humour than in their later work.
The key phrase, however, is "a bit"; the creepy but amusing Freudianisms of 'Pony', the drunkard's hymn of 'Water Into Wine', and the morning-after lament of 'She Awoke With a Jerk' are witty enough, but there's a dark undertow that wavers between cynicism and hopelessness which allows these songs to sit side by side with the album's takes of murder (Arlene), urban alienation (Moving Furniture Around), and corrupted faith (Everything That Rises Must Converge).
Brett Sparks' plain but resonant Midwestern twang gives the songs on 'Odessa' the ring of common truth, and he and Rennie Sparks had already established themselves as writers to be reckoned with, conjuring a lyrical voice that sounds homey and terribly alienated at the same time.
1. Here’s Hopin
4. One Way Up
5. Water Into Wine
6. Giant Ant
7. Everything That Rises Must Converge
9. The Last
10. Claire Said
11. Moving Furniture Around
12. Big Bad Wolf
13. She Awoke With A Jerk
14. Happy Harvest
Artist: The Handsome Family
Genre: Folk, Country & Americana
Format: Vinyl LP
Cat Number: VJLP253
Released: 20th March 2020