If their last album, Through the Trees, came to us from the darkness at the bottom of a well (or a liquor bottle), In the Air is the sound of the Handsome Family after they made it out of the depths and up onto the grass – and are now adjusting to a less desperate life. Not to say that it's sunny. Lyricist Rennie Sparks still presents us with dark and bloody tragedies, as well as whimsical fairytales about lonely, but hopeful figures. The difference between In the Air and the Handsome Family's last album seems to be the presence of a calm (as opposed to disturbed restraint) and a certain warmth pervading this album. Brett Sparks' vocal delivery comes across as more relaxed and natural and in lieu of the occasional, creepy vocal effects used on the last album. The colorful, sad, and disturbed scenes are often delivered with a country flavor and a folk instrumentation, and include songs that are the rightful offspring of Appalachian murder ballads, such as "My Beautiful Bride" and "Up Falling Rock Hill," and southern hymns ("Never Grow Old"). The Handsome Family's songs are imbued with a tender romanticism and love of the fantastic – and of a world that, for all it's real twists and sadness, still holds moments of childlike wonder and magical possibilities.
In the Air was recorded, as were their three previous albums, in the Handsome Family living room, this time with live percussion (provided by Brett) instead of a drum machine. Also heard are guest musicians Darrell Sparks, who sings backup and plays guitar on two songs, and violinist Andrew Bird (formerly of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, leader of his own roots music-based band) who contributes to "Poor, Poor Lenore," "Up Falling Rock Hill," and "When That Helicopter Comes," a hellfire and brimstone, foot-stomping number with a sparse, bluegrass delivery: "It's gonna rain champagne/and the hills are gonna dance… The sky will swim in lightning fire and the trees will shake and scream."
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