The Handsome Family

Brett and Rennie Sparks have to be one of the most peculiar couples working in alt-country. She writes the lyrics, he handles the melodies and together, they create twisted and distinctly traditional takes on folk and honky-tonk. Working in the same bizarro-Americana universe as Lambchop and Will Oldham, the Sparks are almost hallucinogenic in their imagery while somehow preserving musical ties to Hank Williams Sr. and Johnny Cash.

With those compliments in mind, it's not bad that Last Days of Wonder, the Family's seventh full-length, isn't that different from their 1998 breakthrough Through the Trees. Brett's morose baritone conveys Rennie's off-kilter sentiments while guest pickers Stephen Dorocke (Freakwater) and David Coulter (Tom Waits) create conventional country backdrops. "Dreamed of a death ray to disintegrate matter/Detected Morse code from faraway planets," Brett sings on "Tesla's Hotel Room," intoning such eccentric prose as one would a typical country ballad. And in "These Golden Jewels," the narrator speaks of "shopping carts of garbage overturned in silver ponds" and "abandoning cars in fields of wild mustard." Never drawing attention to their idiosyncrasies nor shying away from their debt to traditional sources, the Sparks seem ready for a breakthrough that only their peculiarity might prevent.