The welcome return of live shows has brought a deeper sense of gratitude and community amongst music-lovers and raised the importance of enjoying the moment, of being transported away from your everyday to somewhere new, different or magical. Of all the gigs I’ve had the pleasure of attending in recent months, seeing The Handsome Family was perhaps the most captivating experience. Although I’d been listening to The Handsome Family for many years, this was the first time I’d seen them on stage and the first time is always particularly memorable and special. It was a simply spellbinding show, filled with songs that are lyrical masterpieces, like little other-worldly myths. One of the highlights was ‘The Bottomless Hole’, from 2003 classic album ‘Singing Bones’. This is one of their most deeply, darkly thought-provoking songs, in which kitchen scraps, dead cows and broken tractors are thrown into a hole the narrator found behind his barn. But that hole is bottomless and never fills up, leading him to explore it: “I went out behind the barn and stared down in that hole // Late in the evening my mind would not let go…My wife she did help me, she fed me down the ropes // And then I sank away from the surface of this world.” He’s still falling. The imagination and marvellous streak of metaphor in Rennie Sparks’ lyrics is matched by the sonorous quality of her husband’s voice. When people talk about music being atmospheric, this is what they’re talking about.
This rendition of ‘The Bottomless Hole’ was brilliantly recorded at Whelan’s in Dublin back in 2015. It’s built upon pulsing bass and fluid drums that help to give the song it’s moody atmosphere. Over a powerfully evocative tune, Brett Sparks delivers the poetic words in his distinctive, deep, resonant voice, displaying his range and character. One of my personal favourites from The Handsome Family, ‘The Bottomless Hole’ shows what the band are all about: literary lyrics, thought-provoking subject matter, timeless music, superb vocal performances and hauntingly atmospheric songs. Many music fans will know The Handsome Family through another fine song, ‘Far From Any Road’, the chilling and intense theme from the first season of the outstanding American TV show ‘True Detective’, which featured on the same album as ‘The Bottomless Hole’. If you’re new to the band, led by husband and wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks, then that record is an excellent starting point. And next time they’re touring near you, be sure to check them out. Mesmerising stuff.
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From up north but now hiding in rural Suffolk. An insomniac music-lover. Love discovering new music to get lost in – country, singer-songwriters, Americana, rock…whatever. Currently enjoying Ferris & Sylvester, John Smith, Jarrod Dickenson, William Prince, Frank Turner, Our Man in the Field…