Handsome Family, Azita | Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park | Folk & Country | Chicago Reader
This is a past event.
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When: Mon., July 22, 6:30 p.m. 2013
On Wilderness (Carrot Top), the fantastic new album from former Chicagoans the Handsome Family, Rennie Sparks juxtaposes the turbulent and ever-changing human world with the relative immutability of nature—she’s named all 12 songs after animals or insects, but she uses metaphor to deliver compelling observations of the human condition. As usual her lyrics are more like prose poems or short stories in verse, and right from the album’s opening lines her mastery of language is on display as she describes the death of General George Custer: “Yes, there in Montana prairie grass the Sioux shot Custer down / His red scarf tied, his black boots shined / How beautiful he looked to the flies, the happy kingdom of flies.” I don’t know of anyone so good at making powerful commentary by blending bits of obscure history (whether about notorious Wisconsin window-smashing basket case Mary Sweeney or the ignominious end of composer Stephen Foster) with fanciful myths about nature (the notion that an octopus waves its tentacles to hypnotize schools of fish). Sparks is accompanied by a rich blend of various strains of Americana played and sung by her husband, Brett, who expands from his bedrock of the Carter Family and Hank Williams to push into Neil Young territory (“Frogs”) and play a bit with bossa nova (“Caterpillars”). His wonderfully lugubrious delivery, with its blend of stoicism and wit, gives the songs an extra gravity. —Peter Margasak Azita opens.

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