The Milk Carton Kids, The Ash & Clay
I discovered The Milk Carton Kids in early 2012. As each year begins, I commence to researching the acts playing the SXSW festival coming up in March. One of my resources is a website called Operation Every Band, a blog written by a team of people who listen to every act playing the official SXSW showcases.
In their blog, they mentioned an act called The Milk Carton Kids with a comparison to Simon and Garfunkel, so I told myself, “I have to hear this!” Soon, I was listening to the duo regularly on Rhapsody and watching live performances on YouTube, marveling at the way their voices match each other and the incredible country picking of lead guitarist, Kenneth Pattengale. Their set at SXSW in 2012 was a gorgeous throwback to mid-’60s folk music with witty, charming, and purposefully uncomfortable banter between Joey (Ryan) and Kenneth (people sometimes compare them to The Smothers Brothers).
I kept listening and became almost obsessed with them, tracking their tours and wishing they’d come back to Texas. Sure enough, they received an invitation to the Kerrville Folk Festival, so I took my wife to see them there. As much as I loved their debut album, Prologue, I definitely preferred seeing them live, but in Kerrville, I was able to buy Prologue on vinyl and get the “Kids” to sign it for me.
As 2013’s SXSW approached, I was excited to find out they would be playing in Texas again. They played only once at SXSW in 2012, but in 2013 they played four shows — I was able to make it to three of the four, and each time I saw them topped the last. Hearing the songs live before being able to hear the album cemented the songs into my brain. Obviously, their albums are nothing more than live performances in the studio, as there are only two guys with guitars, so a real review should be based on song quality (as opposed to lush production).
And quality is here on The Ash & Clay. My favorites so far are “Honey, Honey,” “The Jewel of June,” and “Heaven.” “Hope Of A Lifetime” and “The Ash & Clay” are excellent, as well. I tend to favor the faster songs, but this is music for people who want to sit, listen, and have a drink. If you’re willing to take the time to listen, you will be rewarded.
As you sit and listen, you’ll realize that this album was recorded live with no overdubs. For me, just like listening to the album on vinyl, this live quality adds to the experience, making me feel like this album was made for me. After about 20 listens, I’m beginning to love this album as much as Prologue.
Some people will probably dismiss these guys as a Simon and Garfunkel rip-off, but I don’t see it that way. S&G are definitely a jumping-off point, but The Milk Carton Kids have done a great job on making the sound of the acoustic duo all their own. And anyway, S&G aren’t exactly making any new music together these days.
Ideally, I would like to see a live album next from the band, because truly you can’t appreciate The Milk Carton Kids unless you get the full treatment, with between-song banter and audience laughter. If and when they play Houston, I will expect you to join me. In the meantime, I will wear out the grooves on The Ash & Clay.
(Feature photo by Brendan Pattengale.)