By David Werther
The Milk Carton Kids, Monterey (Anti Inc., 2015)
The Milk Carton Kids (MCKs) are Kenneth Pattengale on a 1954 Martin 0–15 and Joey Ryan on a 1951 Gibson J45. Appreciative critics compare their harmonies to Simon and Garfunkel and the Everly Brothers, and their banter to the Smothers Brothers. However, Kim Ruehl will have none of that: “They’re not the second coming of Simon & Garfunkel… They’re two songwriter/guitar players from California who, once upon a time, decided they’d see how far their two voices and two guitars could go… Their entire collaboration circles around one question: ‘What can be done — how many thoughts, feelings, and ideas can be explored — within the confines of this particular sonic limitation?’”*
The MCKs do indeed play by their own rules. They are performing artists, a live band that gave away its first two albums to build an audience for their shows. Their latest, “Monterey,” is not a live recording but neither is it traditional studio fare. Pattengale and Ryan took recording equipment on the road and eschewed professional studios for venues where they performed (e.g., recording the title track at McDougal United Church in Edmonton, Alberta).
The prompt for the songs on Monterey was, “Let’s try to write three to five minute songs that they like to play and we aren’t going to get sick of and maybe have the capacity to touch people.”** Their songs tend to be wistful. Were it not for their captivating flat-picking, their beautifully blended songs might leave the listener completely lulled. For an introduction to the MCKs, see the video for the Monterey song “Poison Tree”*** that displays the band’s poignancy and warmth. Prompt fulfilled.
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