The Milk Carton Kids
The Milk Carton Kids have emerged as a “powerful voice” defining the continuing folk tradition. A refreshing alternative to the foot-stomping grandeur of the so-called folk revival, an understated virtuosity defines the duo’s music. Garrison Keillor has called them “absolute geniuses in close-harmony”, inviting them onto A Prairie Home Companion three times in 2013. Pattengale says of their creative process: The Milk Carton Kids’ 2013 album, The Ash and Clay, received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Folk Album of 2013, in addition to receiving a nomination for Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2013 Americana Music Honors & Awards. In 2014 they were selected the Americana Music Association Duo/Group of the Year.
Waltzing into disaster and its aftermath, The Milk Carton Kids’ “All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do” arrives from ANTI- Records on June 29.
The new project marks the first time that acoustic duo Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale have brought a band into the studio with them. “We wanted to do something new,” Pattengale says. “We had been going around the country yet another time to do the duo show, going to the places we’d been before. There arose some sort of need for change.”
“Musically we knew we were going to make the record with a bigger sonic palette,” says Ryan. “It was liberating to know we wouldn’t have to be able to carry every song with just our two guitars.”
Since their last studio album, “Monterey” (ANTI- 2015), life has changed dramatically for The Milk Carton Kids. Pattengale has moved to, and is now producing records in Nashville. Ryan is now the father of two children and works as a producer on “Live from Here with Chris Thile,” the reboot of “A Prairie Home Companion.” A break from years of non-stop touring, Ryan says, has yielded “space outside of the band that gives us perspective on what the band is.”
But it’s not just the addition of the band here that creates something new. National politics left Ryan feeling disoriented and mournful. Pattengale’s relationship of seven years ended, and he found himself unexpectedly needing surgery for cancer. (He is cancer-free now, and accidentally broke his cigarette habit in the process.)
Though they didn’t approach the new album conceptually, a theme of shattered realities began to emerge out of the songs that sparked to life. Recent events provided a bruising background for the record, yet the project is somehow bigger than any personal grief. Two-part harmonies ride acoustic guitars high above the haunting landscape created by the presence of the band, as if Americana went searching for a lost America.
Produced by Joe Henry and engineered by Ryan Freeland, “All the Things That I Did and All The Things That I Didn’t Do” was recorded in October 2017 in the Sun Room at House of Blues Studio in Nashville. Musicians who joined them there included Brittany Haas on violin and mandolin, Paul Kowert and Dennis Crouch on bass, Jay Bellerose on drums, Levon Henry on clarinet and saxophone, Nat Smith on cello, Pat Sansone on piano, mellotron, and Hammond organ, Russ Pahl on pedal steel and other guitars and Lindsay Lou and Logan Ledger as additional singers. Mixed by Pattengale, the album was mastered by Kim Rosen.
If previous Milk Carton Kids productions recall plaintive missives from a faraway hometown, these songs sound more intimate, like a tragic midnight knock at your front door.
The album ricochets between familiar styles and experimental songs. “Just Look at Us Now” rejects easy sentiment, suggesting that hindsight only reveals how badly things have turned out. “It’s a terrifying place to be,” says Ryan, “when everything seemed to be going fine.” The stunned “Mourning in America” holds up an atmospheric Polaroid from the Midwest—as Ryan explains it, “what it feels like to live in a country you thought you knew.”
In one of their biggest departures, “Nothing Is Real,” neither of The Milk Carton
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