Milk Carton Kids: New Faces, Old Style

Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale are funny guys. In fact, the audience was treated to a pseudo-stand up routine by Joey as he introduced himself, the band, the show in its entirety and the opening act. There was definitely a lot of laughter involved. If his music career flounders, he just might have a back-up job already lined up. He’s soft, witty and obscure (including a bit about why their album – Ash & Clay – has an ampersand rather than the conjunction written out).

My hopes were high for MKC, given the phenomenal group that led off the night – The Barefoot Movement. (Joey in fact mentioned that the Barefoot Movement have been getting such an enthusiastic response that MKC should open for them). I thought the show started off a little dull in comparison. Granted the two styles are very different, but it was almost a little too mellow for my liking. The boys did grow on me though. I particularly enjoyed the ballad “Charlie” written by Pattengale about his unborn child. (It should be noted here that Pattengale does not have a child on the way, nor is he married – in fact he is single. Good to know their humour seeps through into their music).

The Milk Carton Kids are vintage in every sense of the word. They both strum 1950’s guitars – a ’51 Gibson J45 for Ryan and a ’54 Martin 0-15 for Pattengale. They use a classic old-school microphone and their fashion style is an amalgamation of 50s retro, modern, lounge singer, with a splash of 1920’s jazz. For looking this good, I give them my utmost praise. They also pair up nicely, with the neatly trimmed Pattengale juxtaposed against the more shaggy Ryan.

In discussion with a friend on this band, one word that came was ironic. To me it the perfect way describe what they are about; it covers all aspects of their work. The name itself I suppose is somewhat ironic in its own right – they are not kids and, presumably have never gone missing. (though being musicians I wouldn’t unexplained absences past them). Even their lyrics are tinged with irony. NPR has described them as “gorgeous contemporary folk“, which I agree with – yet folk music today is so broad and varied it is hard to pinpoint exactly what modern folk might be. NPR also says the MKC are “Gillian Welch & David Rawlings-meets-Simon & Garfunkel with a splash of the Everly Brothers”. This is the most strangely accurate band description I have heard yet. Joey Ryan admits the influences of Welch & Rawlings and Simon & Garfunkel in their music; the Everly Brothers less so, though he understands where that reference comes from.

Like many duos (including the aforementioned Simon & Garfunkel), MKC have had more success playing together than during their solo careers (though they both still play their same guitars). They have released three albums as a musical pairing, and two under the moniker of The Milk Carton Kids. Their latest, Ash & Clay, is a playful, peaceful and sorrowful adventure ripe with soulful ballads and mournful folk tunes. It is great chill out and be mellow music. It could also put you to sleep. That being said, it is clear that these two folkies understand the craft and have all the right ingredients to be successful.

Ash & Clay was released March 26th, 2013 on ANTI Records.

RIYL: The Everly Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Fleet Foxes


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