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The Milk Carton Kids : Monterey

★★★★

The Milk Carton Kids are a breath of fresh air in the contemporary folk scene. The duo, comprising Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, eschew the saccharine lyrics and hey-ho choruses that have become serially overused to whip festivals into frenzied hoedowns. Instead, their latest album Monterey opts for something more nuanced, genuine and ultimately rewarding.
 
Armed with just two guitars and two hushed voices, this intimate eleven song collection was recorded live in theatres and a Nashville church. Although the stripped back instrumentation can be limiting at times, it’s the ideal format for their talent to shine through. Title track Monterey exemplifies this, featuring the duo’s close vocal harmonies alongside Pattengale’s virtuosic flat picking, which weaves its way through the tune until exploding into an extended, lyrical solo.
 
Such sparse production puts The Milk Carton Kids’ chemistry at the forefront. Pattengale's fiery fretwork is anchored by Ryan’s steady rhythm. Ryan’s raspy, weary voice is matched perfectly by Pattengale’s high and pure tone. When their voices combine on the haunting Getaway, it becomes almost impossible to distinguish one from the other. After nearly five years of playing together, The Milk Carton Kids know each other’s subtle inflections, habits and playing style so well that it echoes the effortless connection of Simon and Garfunkel or contemporaries Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
 
At times, the lack of variation can become frustrating. In the lead up to the release, Ryan stated, “this record is the same as our last one, just slower and sadder.” Looking past the self-deprecating humour, he’s not exactly wrong. One song can seem to blend into the next without much differentiating them. In saying that, The Milk Carton Kids have found a winning formula that they are content to continue exploring.
 
BY JAMES DI FABRIZIO