Singing Bones — The Handsome Family — W.A.C.#5


Singing Bones

My thoughts

Country music has never managed to break into my general taste for various reasons. There’s a certain esoteric nature that I just can’t shake; the genre is about life in the country, or stories, or life lessons… That can’t be a reason to shy from the whole genre… Maybe it’s the omniscient narrator that seems to feature so often, laying out a story or suggesting that we should learn something?… But that isn’t representative of the whole genre… Well! Whether it bores me, puzzles me or irks me, I’ve no choice. Let’s dive in.

Singing Bones is the sixth studio album for The Handsome Family and represents a maturity of form. This album does not contain much in the way of variation. It’s full of ambling ballads and minimalist guitar or banjo backing. On the positive side, the songs are tightly written with a clear knowledge for what makes a good country song.

The Forgotten Lake is a haunting and contemplative amble with guitar and vocals echoing around. The style follows in the next two tracks Gail With The Golden Hair and 24-Hour Store. The former has more of a maudlin feel to it and the latter a more jaunty amble, but they are all the same sort of ambling feeling. Don’t get me wrong here. The songs stand alone quite well and are pretty strongly written but as an album start, the lack of variation really begins to show. It’s an example of a repeated style but the paint-by-numbers harmonies do grate here and there.

Then we hit The Bottomless Hole. Suddenly we get a burst of something different with a Johnny Cash style tale complete with the slightly scratchy vocals. The track itself is a breath of fresh air just for the mild change. Indeed, the following track Far From Any Road, incorporates a Spanish style guitar and the muted trumpets that might well make you think of Tarantino movies. It will also make you think of the show True Detective as it serves as the theme music for the show!

Then If The World Should End In Fire begins and it’s great. This strips all of the instruments out and presents you with an A Capella country song, which I have never heard before and it’s pretty effective, with those silent pauses.

Skipping the return to basics A Shadow Underneath, we have Dry Bones and I don’t know why I like this style more, it’s more Johnny Cash again but the style just has more to pick up on. This journey of discover has shown me that I am not a fan of songs that seem to exhibit no energy or expression, which I’m afraid some tracks are guilty of.

Now I will address the next three tracks together: Fallen Peaches, Whitehaven, and Sleepy. These tracks get more pace by just accepting a drum beat, which begs the question. Why were these songs not encorporated earlier, to change the feel? The order of this album is all wrong! I can’t figure out the logic. Sleepy has a couple of juicy harmonic moments…

The Song Of A Hundred Toads, as you can tell from the title, is a little more lighthearted and somehow seems to reveal an incoming end to the album. It does have the feeling of an ending, like it’s saying: “We’ve done the super deep stuff.”

And we wind out with another A Capella track If The World Should End In Ice. So thought has been given by the structure! We got a mid track and end track that punctuate the album and well! I’ll even ignore the fact that they are clearly the same song, just two separate verses, because it’s effective. I just wish the rest had a bit more mixing!

Overall, I felt a bit of a sense of a relief at the end, and not for the reason you might think. I got what The Handsome Family were going for more. It’s not totally my style and I couldn’t listen to this block as an album again. Also, the fact that non-punctuation tracks seemed a little thrown in, just contributed to the pacing problems that I ultimately felt were there.

Is this album for you?

Now, for many who like the slow ambling country music sound, this album is going to tick those boxes for you! This is not ignorantly written stuff, ignoring issues of ordering I had. Perhaps an evening out in a glorious summer sun with some beer might do enough for the general ambiance to soften feelings. Dip in and be the judge.


  • Writing: 6.5/10 (variation is still possible!)
  • Performance: 7.5 (decent)
  • Style: 7/10 (generally) …. 4/10 (personally)
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