The Handsome Family have been singing about America—old America, new America, weird America—for nearly 25 years. Beginning with 1994’s Odessa and continuing through 2016’s Unseen, husband-and-wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks have practically minted their own brand of dark, droll, and peculiar Americana. In 2014, the Sparks’ received an unexpected surge of popularity when their track “Far From Any Road” (from 2003’s Singing Bones) was used as the theme song for the first season of HBO’s True Detective. Highlighted by Brett’s booming baritone and Rennie’s pitch-black lyrics, it’s a song that serves as both encapsulation and introduction. Follow its lead and you’ll soon find yourself lost in a dusty, ghost-haunted world.
Those ghosts hover around the edges of The Handsome Family’s striking rendition of “Home On The Range.” Known as the unofficial anthem of the American West (and the official song of the state of Kansas), “Home On The Range” was written in 1872 by Dr. Brewster M. Higley of Smith County, Kansas. It was originally a poem, “My Western Home,” but was soon adapted and put to music by Higley’s carpenter friend, Daniel E. Kelley. Those origins were relatively obscure, however, until Bing Crosby recorded a version of the song in 1933. Since then, it has been covered by everyone from Neil Young and Tori Amos to Willie Nelson and Bugs Bunny. And now, as part of Milwaukee Record‘s monthly Public Domain video series, The Handsome Family.
This episode was shot, directed, and edited by Cheston Van Huss, with additional videography by Samantha Kirchoff. Public Domain is sponsored by Colectivo Coffee Roasters, 3 Sheeps Brewing Company, and Transfer Pizzeria Café.