The Milk Carton Kids – Monterey – A Review

Read our review of Monterey by The Milk Carton Kids

the-milk-carton-kids-monterey-380The Milk Carton Kids are Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan.  Kenneth plays a 1954 Martin 0-15 and Joey a 1951 Gibson J45.  On record and on stage, they sing and play in a delightful unison that’s incredibly beautiful to behold, with magical, gentle harmonies and delicate, interwoven guitar work.  On the two occasions I’ve seen them perform live, they have been incredibly amusing, with free-flowing anecdotes and wry observations that seem completely  spontaneous, as if thinking out loud.  An extraordinary combination of brilliant musicianship and knee-slapping humour – such endearing entertainment.  The duo’s 2013 tour of Australia featured in my best shows of the year.

Their debut record was very well received indeed and the two years since the release of The Ash & Clay have been heady ones for The Milk Carton Kids.  They have featured in outstanding documentary Another Day, Another Time**, won Duo/Group of the Year at the 2014 Americana Music Awards, captured a Grammy nomination and performed at the prestigious Newport Folk Festival.

Monterey, released in May 2015 on Anti Records, was recorded, mixed and mastered by Pattengale.  The songs were recorded between McDougall United Church in Edmonton Alberta, James Hall in Vancouver, British Columbia, The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix Arizona and the breathtaking Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville Tennessee.  Almost all songs are by The Milk Carton Kids – except “Secrets Of The Stars” a duo co-write with Sarah Jarosz and “Monterey” (Pattengale alone).

“Asheville Skies” is a beautiful beginning, with aching regrets

I’d love nothing more than to cover my face

Forget who I am and get out of this place

Pretend to be somebody other than me

And go on living that way

“Getaway” is another sad and splendid canvas, about childhood scars (running away doesn’t mean a getaway), with a father’s parting words offering perhaps some clarity and maybe even hope.  The title track “Monterey” is an ode to life on the road “someone’s sure to hear how loud we sing” and what is left behind.  “Secret Of The Stars” is more spritely than what has preceded while “Freedom” is strongly focused on war, violence and weapons –  “Hear the sound of screaming, that’s what freedom sounds like now”.  “High Hopes” injects some pace and a little optimism into the collection, or is there sly irony at play here?  “Shooting Shadows” is another disquieting narrative to what’s gone and “City Of Our Lady” contains more beautiful, entwined vocals and guitars.  “Sing Sparrow Sing” is a solo lullaby while “Poison Tree” reverts to the underlying musical feel throughout the album, this time opining about life and impending death in a small town.

Here’s a clip of a live performance of “Monterey” which provides an instructive insight as to what you can expect on this release.

Monterey, the duo’s third full-length release is not radically different in musical vibe to what has been presented before.  In this case, the songs were written on the road and recorded there.

They now sing and play together like there’s an inexorable bond between them, akin to identical twins finishing off each others’ sentences.  You will be enthralled by the close, lovely harmonies and interlaced acoustic guitar which are front and centre.  In fact, I doubt there is another voice or instrument on the album, with the duo’s self-sufficiency even extending to its recording and mixing.

The technique which continues to be used here is flawless and, even if some of the songs don’t particularly stand out, there’s always enough to absorb – a guitar embellishment or harmony re-calibration – and draw you under the gentle and intricate spell of The Milk Carton Kids.

** Another Day Another Time: Celebrating The Music of “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a live recording from a one-night-only concert at Town Hall in New York in September 2013.  The two-disc set was produced by T Bone Burnett and Joel & Ethan Coen (writer/director/producers of the movie) and features live performances by icons and the cream of rising stars of the folk and Americana scene.



Read our review of Monterey by The Milk Carton Kids

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Author: Rob Dickens

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