'Last Days of Wonder' is the seventh album from quirky husband-and-wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks. Another broadcast from the wilder shores of Americana, this won't disappoint long-term fans of Rennie's timeless tales of love and graveyards, death rays and grizzly bears. On the other hand, there's little new here.
Once again, Brett's sonorous baritone brings a series of disparate characters to life. Take your pick from electrical inventor Nicola Tesla who "detected Morse code from faraway planets" ('Tesla's Hotel Room'); a man who mysteriously disappears one day, leaving his "perfect lawn, his automatic sprinklers about to switch on" ('Beautiful William'); or an assortment of disconnected encounters with strangers ('Somewhere Else to Be', 'All the Time in Airports').
The Handsome Family sound, based around simple guitar, bass, and drums arrangements performed by Brett, is augmented this time by a few well-chosen additions. There's pedal steel from Stephen Dorocke on the evocative country of 'Somewhere Else To Be' and the mournful 'Your Great Journey' while British multi-instrumentalist and former Pogue member, David Coulter contributes the eerie sound of a musical saw ('These Golden Jewels'). The album highlight is 'After We Shot the Grizzly', a (sort of) survival tale that takes place "after the airship crashed" with jazzy guitar and banjo adding a carefree air to the decidedly grisly lyrics.
There may be no major progressions on 'Last Days of Wonder' but The Handsome Family's particular brand of oddball country rewards far more than a casual listen. And, when you've got to the end of this album, there are another 10 years of recorded output to explore.