Sixth album from Mr and Mrs Sparks of New Mexico
Those familiar with Brett and Rennie Sparks will be aware that?in the transition from 1998’s Through The Trees to 2000’s In The Air?they began nailing their sound in earnest, sharpening the details in Rennie’s imagery and Brett’s delivery. If 2001’s Twilight established Brett as the link between George Jones and the Harry Smith-fired worlds of Clarence Ashley and Dock Boggs, this one seals it further. And lyrically, Rennie provides their most thematically coherent work to date, ripping at “the veil between this world and the next”. Set against black dirt hills, dark valleys and red mountains at dusk, these are tales of shadows climbing Wal-Mart walls, lovers lost in cities, beckoned by unseen voices, spiritual gateways at the bottom of the garden and whispers from the cogs of Xerox machines.
Singing Bones is a beautiful record. Brett’s doleful Texan burr carries all the weight, heave and belly-scratch of centuries, cushioned by pedal-steel, mariachi guitar or sulky bass. “24-Hour Store”?a tale of “sleepless and lost” shoppers oblivious to the crying ghosts dancing in their midst?sets a soulful baritone against trembly musical saw, like a worried wind. “The Bottomless Hole” (inspired by Kelly Harrell’s 1927 ditch-digging ode “My Name Is John Johanna”) is a deep-bowelled bluegrass workout; “Dry Bones” (reworking Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s 1928 version) a Southern Baptist hymnal; “Whitehaven” a stringed cinerama; “The Song Of A Hundred Toads” classic clickety-clack country.
An exquisitely-wrung meditation suggesting the living and dead are forever intertwined and shadows in the corner are never simply shadows, Singing Bones is Beetlejuice as imagined by Edgar Allan Poe.