A month ago I had never heard of the Milk Carton Kids, and even when I received a newsletter from Love Police about their Australian Tour, I paid scant attention. Then I read a review of their latest CD, The Ash & Clay, on No Depression and my interest was piqued to the point that I checked them out. I liked what I heard on their website, and taking advantage of the free download of their first two albums, listened some more, and subsequently became addicted to their music.
The Milk Carton Kids are Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, who through some freakish chance have an extraordinary musical symbiosis. They each had low key solo careers before they met, both being folk singer songwriters who had largely gone unnoticed. Since teaming up in 2011, their star has risen to such an extent that their shows in the USA are sold out as soon as they go on sale.
Musically, they are an interesting blend of Simon & Garfunkel/Everly Brothers and Gillian Welch. Their voices sound as if they were made for each other, blending so beautifully that they sound like one voice. They play ancient guitars; Joey’s is a 1951 Gibson J45, and Kenneth's is a 1954 Martin 0-15, and complement each other’s playing, Kenneth being the more ornate guitarist of the two, sounding very like David Rawlings, which is no bad thing. Despite the comparisons these guys manage to create a totally individual sound if you listen long enough.
So, after playing their CDs (including The Ash & Clay, which I purchased) obsessively for the last two weeks, I was well prepared and very much anticipating their appearance at the Thornbury Theatre.
I was not disappointed. In fact I was enraptured by the duo and very much charmed and amused by their performance. For The Milk Carton Kids, as well as being beguiling musically, are very funny as well. People were practically rolling in the aisles with laughter at Joey Ryan’s wonderful dead pan humour, to which he treated us between songs.
I never thought I would get to hear to a dissertation on the origins of the ampersand at a concert!
The opening act was special as well. Young singer songwriter Melody Pool performed a moving set of her own compositions, the highlight being Henry, a gut wrenching heartbreaker of a song. Melody, true to her name, has a very affecting voice, kind of like Joni Mitchell, but more powerful and emotionally expressive. It was the first time I had seen or, indeed, heard her play and I was impressed.
Check out this You Tube of her performing Henry and see/hear for yourself.
The Milk Carton Kids were scheduled to play at 9.30pm, but they caught everyone by surprise, ambling onto the stage a quarter hour early. They opened with the first track on The Ash & Clay, Hope Of A Lifetime, which, typical of all their songs, has a lovely melody that enhances the gloriousness of their harmonies.
Joey introduced the title track, which they played next, making sure we were all aware that the ampersand inserted between ‘Ash’ and ‘Clay’ was intentional and not a lazy way of writing. And also no doubt, because he could introduce his musings on typography and grammar into his on-stage patter. He continued this theme with the next song Honey, Honey with its use of a comma between the two Honey’s.
He played a wonderful trick on the audience when introducing Kenneth’s song Charlie which is about a future daughter. I won’t spoil the joke here, as it probably has to be heard first time to be really appreciated.
By this time the duo had the audience in total thrall. For a so called minimalist act, they were marvellously engaging, quirky and endearing.
There was a reasonable crowd in attendance, so I was glad I had booked reserved seating which had us sitting towards the front. I took my Panasonic micro four thirds camera with me, intending to try out a new lens I had recently purchased for it. As you can see it worked a treat.
There were other photographers creeping around the front of the stage, with enormous lenses. You know the type, they crouch directly beneath the artists and aim their cameras nostril wise. Joey Ryan dispatched them in a clever witty manner, informing them that the scene was not going to change anytime during the concert, as he and Kenneth would remain in the same positions all evening.
And so they did, the odd pair. Joey is the tall skinny guy on the left. He hardly moves, whereas Kenneth on the right, gyrates as he plays his guitar.
It was a fantastic concert, a real surprise and I’m sure all who were present would count themselves as die hard fans of The Milk Carton Kids from now on. I admit that they are a thrilling new musical discovery for me.
If you get a chance, go and see them; you won’t be disappointed. Or if that’s impossible check them out on their website, where you can still download their first two albums for free, and watch videos of various songs. I recommend the Tiny Desk Concert.
- Hope of A Lifetime
- The Ash & Clay
- Honey, Honey
- Years Gone By
- Maybe It’s Time
- Girls Gather Around
- Snake Eyes
- Stealing Romance
- I Still Want A Little More
- New York