Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Handsome Family: In the Air [Carrot Top, 2000]
The reason these alt-country cult heroes stir up so much humbug is that they do sometimes strike the great elusive motherlode of American tragic deadpan. When Rennie Sparks's lyrics don't settle for "dark," or Brett Sparks's music for lo-fi dirge, they can be miraculous. Next time you're in Dublin, be sure to pick up the Ireland-only '90 best-of Down in the Valley, on Independent. And in the meantime believe that their fourth and best album is almost as good. Of course Brett's no Acuff or Haggard; his static baritone barely negotiates the notes. But as the quietly elaborate direct-to-Mac arrangements swell unassumingly beneath haunting verses and the occasional killer refrain, Rennie's conceits hit home. "I shouldn't have smuggled in that bottle of gin because after the film I could hardly walk"? "Tuesday at dawn Michael's glasses washed ashore with a Styrofoam box and two broken oars"? If that's not real life, it certainly stands as symbolic truth. A-