True Endeavors presents:
Caitlin Rose, The Handsome Family
701A E. Washington Ave
Madison, WI, 53703
This event is 21 and over
Watch & Listen
Exploring your emotions can make for a good song, but it's shining light on those which plague us
all that builds the backbone of the truly great ones. Coupled with tireless melodies that seep into the small
spaces between your bones; it's the kind of music that brings on little movements when life has gotten too stiff.
This is what Caitlin Rose does best. Her lyrics – visceral, illustrative, witty and wry – are pieces of stories that
examine matters of the heart through a unique lens that makes us all see a bit more clearly: from the loneliness
of relationships, to palpable dissolving human connectivity, to the loss of love with none of the melodrama. At
her core, Nashville's Rose is a storyteller and a song-crafter who is more interested in what's being produced
than how it helps her along the way.
Though much of her acclaimed debut Own Side Now was personally-inspired, what stood out most was
its ability to paint a picture and tell a near-cinematic story, from the simultaneous last puffs of both cigarette
and relationship, to the delightfully seedy characters pocketed in a coin-toss on the streets of New York City.
With her follow-up, The Stand-In, Rose seems more interested in telling tales than spilling confessionals. "It
feels more compelling to live through a song than it did having already lived it," she says, The Stand-In is a
journey down a road she's always wanted to take: the path of the story-song. One track, "Pink Champagne,"
inspired by a Joan Didion short essay, accounts for the desperate, short-lived passions of a Vegas wedding.
The emotions stem from both protagonists, but are dissected and recounted by the watchful eye of the chapel
or some honest observer from within. This collection of songs seems bent on investigating relationships from
different perspectives; male and female, young and old, left and leaving, but they all tackle the bitter farewells,
romantic misunderstandings and endless responsibilities in life. Using fibers of her fringe country roots and the
bold musical capabilities of fellow producers/co-writers, Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson (Justin Townes
Earle), The Stand-In seamlessly melds pedal steel guitar with restless pop beats, creating lush instrumentals
that build on the more spare construction of Own Side Now. "These songs are all based in sentiment. We wrote
the stories to convey a feeling." The result is infinitely more universal.
Rose doesn't like to categorize her music, but like the great songwriters of our time, what she creates
is beyond easy classification. While she often mentions core influences like Linda Ronstadt, Bob Dylan and
Patsy Cline, she's constantly absorbing books, movies, cultural ticks: when explaining her writing style, she
pulls a quote from famed 1930's daredevil, Karl Wallenda who said, "being on the wire is life; the rest is just
waiting." The quote is referenced in Bob Fosse's 1979 semi-autobiographical film, All That Jazz. The film
was written and directed by the famed choreographer turned director whose colorful personality and editorial
brilliance became a lead inspiration in the making of The Stand-In. In the context of the scene in which it's
used, the quote comes off as a bit of a put-on, but somehow rings true for 'slave to show-biz' character Joe
Gideon; and Rose as well for whom, all paths lead to the song. Much like Fosse, she tends to describe her
work as restrained and deliberate, something evident on Own Side Now. Though for The Stand-In, she's taken
a few leaps outside her comfort zone, making the result, as she puts it, something like a "first attempt at a high
It's fitting that Rose wrote her first song at sixteen as a substitution for a high school paper. Even as a
means to an end, she recognized the power of music, and of melody, to relay emotions and stories in the most
gripping way possible. A youthful observer, she enjoyed hanging out after school at the local Waffle House
drinking cups of coffee and quietly shaping bits of gossip into first person tales of woe.
Growing up in Nashville to music industry parents (her mother, Liz Rose, is a songwriter who found
success working with artists like Taylor Swift, Leann Womack and others), Rose inherited her mother's
"inclination towards melody –the ability to naturally know where melody could and should go" early on and
again credits her love of songwriting to a long list of influences, many of which would be easily found in either
of her parents record collections. From Hank Williams to The Rolling Stones, she says, "I've always been more
inspired by what others have done."
This is evident in her penchant for covers – two have made their way onto The Stand-In ("I Was
Cruel," by The Deep Vibration and "Dallas" by The Felice Brothers). She considers herself not just a writer,
but an interpreter of song, eager to take works she admires and expose others to their brilliance and also
reinvent them in a way that upon listening you might catch something you missed before.
"For me the intention behind any song is writing a good one," Rose says "and to create something
worthy enough to share with other people" Rose's songs, however, are way beyond worthy. They're downright
The Handsome Family
Enter the dark forest of The Handsome Family and let the beautiful branches surround you. This is haunting music in the most wonderful way— brilliant, emotionally-charged and totally unique. May, 2013 brings the release of The Handsome Family’s Wilderness, a record about animals (frogs, flies, wildebeest, octopuses, lizards...), but in lyricist Rennie Sparks’ hands the wonders of nature are intertwined with true stories of Stephen Foster’s death in a Bowery flophouse, General Custer’s shiny boots as he lay dead on a Montana prairie and the capture of Mary Sweeney, the Wisconsin Window Smasher of 1896. There are also tall tales of the octopus’s hypnotic sea-dance, the frenzied mayhem of a town afflicted by a golden lizard’s bite and an enormous mansion full of screeching owls. Musically you’ll hear everything from parlor ballads to overdriven guitars, trilling mandolin and clawhammer banjo, but also beautiful bells, intricate seven-part harmonies, pedal steel and elemental rock ’n roll.
The Handsome Family is a 20-year songwriting collaboration between husband and wife, Brett (music) and Rennie Sparks (words). Their lyrics and music are very intense, highly descriptive and full of meticulously-researched narrative and exhilerating musical re-imaginings of everything from Appalacian holler, psychedelic rock, Tin Pan Alley and medieval ballad. Of course you don’t have to be a music historian to love these songs. They are full of romantic longing for nature’s mysterious beauty and the tiny wonders of everyday life. They pair sweet melody with sad harmony, love poetry with dark beats. This is music that makes you shiver and cry, but also makes you happy to be alive.
Wilderness, the CD will have a companion release in a book also entitled Wilderness which contains essays and art by Rennie Sparks. The book expands and intertwines the ideas of the CD, making you consider anew everything from ant spirals and woodpecker tongues to the immortal jellyfish and the secret language of crows. The black and white version of the book will be published by The Handsome Family while Carrot Top Records will be releasing a deluxe box set of Wilderness which includes a full-color, fine-art version of the book, the LP and also a poster and postcards featuring Rennie Sparks’ colorful animal imagery.
The Handsome Family’s music and lyricism has always attracted intellectual and devoted fans. Their songs are frequently covered by many notable artists including Jeff Tweedy, Andrew Bird, Kelly Hogan and Christy Moore. Their work has garnered praise from Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, and an unnamed singer on American Idol.
Wilderness is The Handsome Family’s ninth studio album of strange and compelling music. The Handsome Family's 2009 release, Honey Moon was an album of love songs, but the lovers found within these tracks were a praying mantis, a sleeping bird, a cement truck, and a puddle. The previous record, Last Days of Wonder (2006), was a peon to beacons of the last century from polar explorers and Nikola Tesla to the first abandoned shopping carts and lone shoes thrown over telephone wires.
The band has appeared in the movie, I’m Your Man (2005), a tribute to Leonard Cohen as well as Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (2004), a back roads travelogue of arcane Americana music. They have appeared on numerous Irish TV shows as well as Jools' Hollands’ Later.
The Handsome Family record all their songs in a converted garage studio at the back of their house in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. Sometimes live they are a duo (Brett on guitar/vocals, Rennie on banjo/bass ukulele/vocals, sometimes accompanied by a drum machine), but often of late they are joined by percussionist Jason Toth.
A live review by Mike Ritchie in The Scotsman noted, “There’s a lot of smiling at this gig, on and off stage. That might surprise many people who have only read about the duo’s penchant for songs riddled with darkness, death and the macabre. But Rennie Sparks and her husband, Brett are funny live...through their chit-chat, the song introductions and the banter with the audience...this sell-out show was a knockabout celebration of the deadpan, a real joy... Rennie’s words plus Brett’s music and strong, mellow vocals create a magical potion of grim fairytales in a rock and blues pot with grinning unavoidable.”
Through the Trees, (1998)— “One of the ten essential Americana records of all time” — MOJO
In the Air (2000) —“One of the most important records of the 21st century” — UNCUT
Last Days of Wonder (2006) — Top Ten Americana Albums of 2006— MOJO
“Weightless Again” — “One of the 100 best songs ever written about heartbreak”— The Guardian UK
Turns out there's eight vignettes in a Year — adjust your calendars! It's a short-and-sweet annum this time out, crooned and pounded from the broad mouth and avant key stroking of the the ageless and timeless AZITA. This Year, she pops in and out, up and down, making a colorful assortment of Harry-esque tunes you could almost act to, and some almost did. Also good for moments of body-sculpture (and body painting), cafe and cigarettes, and yeah, listening too. Sing along!
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