It has been a pretty grim couple of weeks, in a pretty grim season of what’s been a pretty grim year or two. And this blog has been a grim read of late.
All the more reason to roll into the weekend with something to lighten the load the little. The Milk Carton Kids, Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, as NPR music critic Bob Boilen puts it,
… sing with harmonies steeped in the great duos of days gone by, like The Everly Brothers and Simon & Garfunkel.
Fellow NPR music writer Stephen Thompson elaborates:
The history of folk and pop music is littered with gorgeous intertwined voices: Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, The Jayhawks‘ Mark Olsonand Gary Louris, and many others have found their own delicate blend of chemistry and charisma. The Milk Carton Kids‘ Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale operate in those pairs’ rich tradition, singing sweet but intricate songs of melancholy when they’re not dishing playful banter between songs.
Ryan and Pattengale get a lot done with subtle gestures — their ballads, like “Michigan” and “Stealing Romance” here, have a way of smoothing over many of their moving parts — but there’s real sophistication.
If you’ve not heard the Milk Carton Kids before, click on the video below to hear them perform one of my favorite songs, “Michigan,” recorded live at Austin City Limits.
If you like what you heard, you can click here for a live recording of their set at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival. The duo are currently touring in support of a new album, this time backed by a full band to support their evolving sound and creative growth:
It helps that, while their influences haven’t gotten lost, Ryan and Pattengale have long since acquired a willingness to stretch out creatively. Take the Joe Henry-produced All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do, whose centerpiece (“One More for the Road”) spans more than 10 minutes as the pair reflect on a desire to prolong a doomed relationship just a little bit longer. Even for a song about lingering, it takes its time — with the help of a full band, a welcome addition — and gathers emotional heft along the way. …
Together, they’ve written a batch of wearily delicate (and, in the case of the rambling and rootsy “Big Time,” zingy) songs about major transitions — both personally and, in “Mourning in America,” politically. But the darkness that seeps in is leavened, as always, by the sun-dappled beauty of two voices, perfectly paired.
Check them out if they come through your neck of the woods.