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The Handsome Family – Hollow Review

Hollow is the feeling which flows through a Saturday night, the pub next door belting out the same playlist like clockwork. Steelers Wheelers are on the rise once again, replaced so swiftly and clunkily by Elvis Presley. Sitting there in the dark and gauging the pop riffs which plead for punters’ sanity on the alcohol-filled nights in town is no match for The Handsome Family and their latest record. Hollow is anything but what its title may suggest. The long-term alt-country brilliance of The Handsome Family survives on yet another record. Welcoming a whole new era into the circle, as they do with the titular Joseph on their opening track, The Handsome Family find themselves detailing a broader stretch of their country influences.  

Broad stretches of regal thoughts and aplomb come through this new release, which feels at the very least, in line with the works of Daniel Knox. Their chamber pop crossovers are delightful and the likes of The King of Everything provide a swaying, upbeat candour. Despite their legacy and longevity, there is a youthful tone to the likes of Skunks and Two Black Shoes. Baritone fixtures from Brett Sparks detail these flourishes of enlightened, envisioned documentations of strangers and changing acoustic tides. The Oldest Water is a step in the right direction, the isolation and loneliness which comes from being extracted from home are found at the core of twee strings and an Old West feel. Within those tones is the recognition of sweating brows and fields of work. The Handsome Family, from name to song structure to lyrical presentation, bring out a classic country standard.  

Moreso here than the rest of their works, Hollow indicates a classical Americana missing from the face of music in recent years. Old hands are still toiling away but the likes of Willie Nelson will not be round to steer the ship much longer. Legendary faces drifting into the background mean The Handsome Family and their ilk can step up their game, as they do with Mothballs. Taking the slow dive with The Handsome Family has never felt any more charming than this. Shady Lake soothes the soul with its clanking, gliding feel. As if it could not get better, the whining electric guitar buried underneath To The Oaks presents a real high for the duo, who rely on the layered skills of their production more often than not. Mary Sparks in particular excels here, the moments of sound are more than enough to highlight her firm hand in The Handsome Family. 

Wear those Knox comparisons with pride. It can be heard on Strawberry Moon, a touching crooner element comes through with an incredible power. There is something ghostly about it, as though coming into contact with the spirit of Frank Sinatra on a dirty street corner. Grisly encounters such as this are rare and strike the heart for all their worth. The Handsome Family has no trouble doing so with Hollow, a rich and well-laden collection of recent works from the undersung duo. A tired close on Good Night may give a firm farewell to listeners closing out their days in isolation, but the rather down-tempo conclusion is a dud note on an otherwise firm album.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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