Before he formed the roots-rock band Tallahassee, Brian Barthelmes was an offensive lineman for the New England Patriots, using his 300-pound frame to strike down players from the other team. Nowadays, he’s throwing his weight behind his band’s second album, which mixes down-tempo Americana with sweeping, guitar-based rockers.
Don’t be confused by the group’s name. Barthelmes formed the four-piece band in Providence, RI — roughly 1,280 miles away from Tallahassee, Florida — but in this case, Tallahassee refers to an old Muskogean Indian word meaning “old fields.” Barthelmes’ music fits that bill well, rustling up memories of forgotten landscapes and rural, open-ended horizons. To keep the vintage theme going, the band even named its new album Old Ways.
“To me, this album is a kind of declaration of our evolution both as a band and as people,” says lead guitarist Scott Thompson. “It’s filled with songs about trying to find a way forward. From this perspective, the title, Old Ways, might be perceived as ironic, but I think it’s just right. We’re the kind of band who would never want our own ideas about these songs or even the album title to overshadow that of the audience. Hopefully, the album title comes across as a sort of invitation to potential listeners, hinting at one meaning while the lyrics articulate something unexpected.”
“There was mystery singing from everything,” says Brett Sparks on “White Lights”. It’s a tender love song from the Handsome Family’s seventh studio album, Last Days of Wonder, that’s set, characteristically enough, within a graveyard beside a stripmall– a theme and place that should be recognizable to anyone familiar with the Handsome Family and their fractured, gothic Americana. The husband/wife duo of Brett and Rennie Sparks have always sought to wrest as much mystery and romance as possible from their seemingly mundane modern surroundings, crafting an impressive, finely attuned catalog of urban ghost stories, death ballads, and fatalistic country narratives.
Steeped in Appalachian folk tradition, the Handsome Family’s songs are forever shadowed by nature’s hidden uncontrollable forces. Perhaps it’s this deep-seated sense of impending doom that has lately discouraged the duo from making any far-reaching updates to their musical attack. Last Days of Wonder is the Handsome Family’s first album since 2003’s Singing Bones, and like the rest of their work its success depends entirely upon two assets: Rennie’s keenly observed, fantasist lyrics and Brett’s rich, oaken baritone. With a formula the duo settled upon somewhere around 1998’s Through the Trees, Brett supplies nearly all of the music as well, digitally recording layers of guitar, banjo, autoharp, and electronic percussion. But while Last Days of Wonder does contain some typically absorbing performances, one can’t help but feel that they’ve begun to repeat themselves, sounding at times like some talkative old-timer who can’t always recall which of his crazy stories he’s already told.
1.Folsom Prison Blues
3.Break My Mind
5.Little Old Winde Drinker Me
6.What’s Left Of Me Will Never Be Right
7.Rock Salt And Nails
9.Storms Of Life
10.I Ain’t Nothin’ Buddy But Drunk
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