So Much Wine is a song that’s set on Christmas Day and chronicles a tense relationship that appears to be on the brink due to one party’s over-consumption of alcohol. Its lyric was written by Rennie Sparks and the music by her husband Brett and the pair are the driving force behind the alt-country band, The Handsome Family. The duo are based in Chicago and formed nearly twenty years ago with Texan Brett on guitar and keyboards and New Yorker Rennie on bass and banjo. The two share vocals, with Brett’s deep baritone usually to the fore. The influence of country and bluegrass is evident in the band’s style and Rennie’s lyrics often read like short stories. Southern Gothic fiction is another inspiration on their music and the writer that I mostly hear in their songs is that wonderful creator of short stories, Flannery O’Connor. The narrator of So Much Wine would appear to be male and he addresses a person who is most likely a woman as he refers to her affectionately as “Butterfly”, indicating a possible romantic involvement as well. The song begins in the middle of a Christmas Day dispute between the narrator and Butterfly. He has been rendered speechless by a series of actions that have seen her throw her clothes in the snow, burn her hair and stumble over chairs. After she passes out on the floor with bloody teeth he drives out to the highway and watches the stars until the sun comes up. He then returns for his own clothes and finds that she’s still lying on the floor. In the chorus, he attempts to dispense some words of wisdom to her, though his advice will most likely fall on deaf ears:
Listen to me, Butterfly, there’s only so much wine you can drink in one life,
But it will never be enough to save you from the bottom of your glass.
The words are sparse and not a comma or syllable is wasted in the harmonica-led version that appears on the group’s In the Air album from 2000. I love the original version, but I’ve also gone for an interesting take from my fellow Irishman Christy Moore. Over a period of a few years at the turn of the millennium, Christy saw Brett and Rennie play a few shows in Cork and Kerry. He was quite taken by the darkness, the beauty and the humour that he heard in their material. He decided to cover So Much Wine, though he made a few changes to the original. He slowed down the tempo and added only acoustic and steel guitars to the 2003 recording that appears on his Burning Times album. His version also brings out the song’s dark humour and you find yourself laughing at the absurdity of the situation one minute and worrying about poor Butterfly the next. Moore only makes a few subtle changes to the original lyric, but he also adds a spoken verse at the end that removes the ambiguity of the original’s conclusion and makes the song even more startling. He also renames the song to Butterfly and relegates its original title to parentheses. You can check out both versions below and see which one you thinks works best. Remember not to drink too much over the festive period; you don’t want to end up like Butterfly