The dark, haunting ballads of husband-and-wife duo the Handsome Family could rival the dusky, brimstone-besmirched songs of Nick Cave as downers, were it not for a pervasive sense of if not redemption possibility on the brink of apocalypse. Brett and Rennie Sparks populate their lingering, twilight country with murder ballads, allegorical animal stories and desperate, yet somehow resolved, characters. A medieval music major, Brett Sparks writes the songs, plays guitar and offers a rich baritone, while Rennie Sparks pens the lyrics, plays autoharp or keyboards, and offers continuous comic relief, playfully skewering the browbeaten Brett throughout the course of the show. Rennie took a few moments to offer an inimitably Handsome Family set of monomanias.
5. Wolves make beautiful music and they each take a different note when harmonizing across the mountains under moonlight.
4. When dogs howl at sirens it's not because their ears hurt. It's because they hear the ancient howl of the wilderness in passing ambulances and fire trucks.
3. Termites have no voices and must communicate by banging their heads upon the ground.
2. Fish speak to each other by clicking their teeth and have been doing so for 20 million years.
1. Rats Laugh when tickled in carefully designed laboratory experiments. Even older rats make a high-frequency chirp of joy when tickled (alas, inaudible to human ears). The youngest rats chirped the loudest and some began to chirp just seeing the scientists enter the room.
With Jim White on Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-761-1451.
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