Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Handsome Family: Wilderness [Carrot Top, 2013]
Since each of the 12 songs is named after an animal--including just one mammal, and a wildebeest at that--you expect a zoological concept album. In fact, however, the title creatures all have walk-ons, fly-ons, swim-ons, or crawl-ons, even the conquering flies who think General Custer looks so "beautiful" dead. Yet the only true ringer is a magic lizard whose bite requires a witchcraft cure--in all the rest, the animals are intimates of a natural world humans navigate clumsily and uncomprehendingly except in "Frogs," where the housebound are bidden to tromp down through the mud and hear their amphibian song. As always, the tales are Rennie Sparks's, the teller her dour husband Brett, and the tales themselves are why you first listen. But these are so fine you don't mind listening again. And as you do, you start noticing how deftly Brett negotiates lines and stanzas that aren't as blockish as their meter and his voice make you think. And then you listen to this uningratiating music some more. A-