Handsome Family | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Handsome Family 

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Brett and Rennie Sparks arrived in Chicago about 15 years ago as unemployable as a couple can be. Rennie, a nice Jewish girl from Long Island, had an MA in English, and Brett, a small-town boy from Odessa, Texas, had studied musicology in graduate school. But maybe hardship was what they were unconsciously looking for. Around 1992 Brett started teaching his wife how to play bass, and for a band name they jokingly chose Brett's nickname, "Handsome." They were received as a mock country-punk novelty act at first, but they slowly improved. Just as slowly, though, their spirits declined; Rennie seemed increasingly attuned to the bad ghosts of the city, publishing Evil, a grim collection of short stories, in 2000, and Brett was eventually hospitalized after a mental breakdown. But despite all this--or because of it--the Handsome Family was finding its musical purpose, most notably on its 1998 breakthrough, Through the Trees (Carrot Top). Alt-country was a buzzword by then, but the personal depths that Brett crawled from lent unmistakable soul to his already commanding bass-baritone, while Rennie's lyrics brilliantly fused country forms, traditional song, and murder ballads to her own gothic and black-humored literary sensibilities. Their eighth and latest album is 2003's Singing Bones (Carrot Top), recorded at their current digs in New Mexico. This show, with opener Jim White, is part of a tour promoting the DVD release of Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, a film featuring White and the Sparkses, among other musicians. Sat 2/11, 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $20, $16 seniors and kids. All ages.

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