The Milk Carton Kids—a harmonizing, minimalist duo—use two guitars and two voices to create their authentic combination of back-porch Americana and classic folk.
"gorgeous contemporary folk"
"A sweetly dazzling variation on close-harmony vocals"
- New York Times
"Absolute mastery of their craft"
- Los Angeles Times
"It's in the intellectual sophistication of their songs that their home environment can be observed, making The Milk Carton Kids an option for purists unsatisfied with some of the pop tendencies seeping in to the genre."
- Paste Magazine
"The Ash & Clay is a further example of the duo's ability to create songs that are both intimate and powerful, bittersweet and inspiring."
- Performer Magazine
"The sweetness and beauty of two voices singing in harmony, the delicate interplay of two acoustic guitars, and the beauty and strength of great songwriting."
- Mix Magazine
Catching the folk wave
(by Jared Schultz)
In a perfect world, when a group has a hit record, they can ride that wave for at least another record, and perhaps once again from the creative juices that have been flowing. Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, the duo that make up The Milk Carton Kids, are not letting their momentum go to waste. Having just received a GRAMMY nomination in 2013 for Best Folk Album Of The Year for their third record, Ash & Clay, they have released a new record with an interesting pedigree and twist on the recording process. The self-produced Monterey continues the harmonies and minimalist folk music they are now famous for with more bravado and confidence.

The eleven-song collection is split both musically and in its recording technique. The duo chose to eschew the recording studio for a slightly more live element to their recording process. They did not go so far as to record themselves playing to live audiences and splicing the takes together, but they did opt for recording while on tour from the very stages they would be playing on that night in order to capture something of the feel they evoke in their live shows. Half the songs on the record were produced this way. The other half of the songs were recorded from one particular stage, that of the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, a technique also used recently by Patty Griffin. It seems The Milk Carton Kids are tapping into some of the country folk magic in the air in Nashville.

Musically the songs are split between more melancholy fare, particularly in the song “Freedom” which, if one is inclined to compare these two to folk duos of the 60s, is their version of a protest song for the modern age. It’s a somber eulogy for what the definition of freedom used to be for Americans and what they have determined it has become at this point. The sentiment is echoed in Joe Henry’s foreword to the record when he writes, “The world is too old to change; and death will meet those who cannot see the future in the past.” In contrast, we get songs like “High Hopes” with fast-paced flat picking that shows off their technical chops, and their ability to be joyous at other moments.

The songs showcase a perfect blend of high and low harmonies punctuated by expert guitar picking that owes a lot to David Rawlings’ style of playing but also takes on its own personality in songs like “Monterey” where we begin to hear hints of Latin influences in the tradition of boleros or Cuban love songs. It’s pensive music for a Sunday morning coffee or a long drive. Spare music indeed, but riding a wave of Americana.
Drunken Werewolf
The Milk Carton Kids ? Monterey
(by Bernue Burke)
The Milk Carton Kids’ third album Monterey could easily be mistaken for something utterly vintage. An airy ambiance precipitates even the first guitar strum, suggesting an acoustic recording set in a shagpile-carpeted, mock-wood panelled studio somewhere in the states during autumn.

The voices of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan blend in the most beautiful harmonies, accompanied by nothing more than gracefully played steel-string guitars. Their sound is heavily reminiscent and often compared to Simon & Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers, widely revered for just how authentic and traditional their indie-folk style is. So much in fact, The Milk Carton Kids have an ever-growing fan base with a demographic encompassing old purists right through to the youngest music lovers.

It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to mention standout tracks on Monterey. The two veteran musicians mastered their craft long ago, and every song truly shines. Pattengale and Ryan both have extensive solo careers, plus two albums together behind them – so one would imagine that this record is the product of a huge back catalogue, and a wealth of experience. Complex and flawlessly executed melodies suggest classical guitar training, such as in “Secrets Of The Stars”, and “Sing, Sparrow, Sing”, which takes you to a romantic Spanish green field somewhere. It’s breathtaking musicianship at its most simple and raw.

There’s nostalgia and shivering regrets, but warmth and love in equal measures on Monterey too, overall achieving perfect equilibrium. “The City Of Our Lady” sounds like what Jack Kerouac must have listened to when he was hitchhiking all over America as a beat poet (this reviewer is just loving the line, “Everywhere we go we are the child of where we came…”) while “Poison Tree” could be the soundtrack to the final scene of a feature film’s happy ending; yet opening track “Asheville Skies” connects with the universal human story of pain and loss.

This is not a record where half is fit for the radio but the rest is filler. Any one song from Monterey could be spontaneously played and you’d find yourself asking, “What band was that?” This already classic-sounding record will be among many a music lover’s favourite selections.
The Milk Carton Kids: ?We Never Put a Lot of Thought Into What Our Sou...
(by Joshua Hammond)
Referring to the Milk Carton Kids as “cutting edge” or “groundbreaking” would be an insult to the roots of country music; claiming the band’s influences stem from the legends that came before them slights Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan’s accomplishments.

Simply put, the band, undefined by a genre, an era, or even by a specific emotion, is what it appears on the surface: There is no objective, pedigree, narrative or plan — they just are.

“We never put a lot a great deal of thought into what our sound would actually be,” Ryan confesses. “The results were always just an attempt to make our records sound like we sounded live. This is true of the themes of an album as well. It has never really been like us to give a theme to a record. Nothing really ties it all together; however, there have been people who have laid a frame around our work. There seems to be a sense of grappling with life in our work. Like the present moment seems to be slipping from our grasps and life seems fleeting. There’s always a fear that nothing we do will matter or last.”

Despite the heavy-handed overtones of their latest album, Monterey, there is a lightheartedness that accompanies the band. The greatest example of this is the manner in which the Grammy-nominated duo flawlessly intersperses elements of “roastmaster” comedy — iconically reminiscent of Minnie Pearl and her Hee-Haw colleagues, June Carter Cash and her satirical one-liners or the Smothers Brothers infamous witty-banter — into a setlist of sad, poignant storytelling.

It is the band’s ability to dabble in diversity that makes its mass appeal possible. With enough alt-country flare to capture the hearts of fans of Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Civil Wars and Ryan Adams, the doors of the Ryman should be wide open to the pair; but Sufjan Stevens fans could rest comfortably with Prologue’s opening track “Michigan” — this credibility helps the outfit pique the interest of the indie rock generation. Fans of Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Dylan can find a familiar vibe in tracks like “No Hammer to Hold” (again from Prologue) or the title track from their sophomore album, The Ash & Clay.

Modern popularity becomes feasible when their catalog is viewed as a unified collection.

Monterey‘s opening track, “Asheville Skies,” walks a tightrope of beauty and heartbreak. With blended vocals reminiscent of their blended careers, Pattengale and Ryan’s signature voices paint a sadness secondary only to their story. The narrator confesses to his desires to “pretend to be somebody other than me and go on living that way,” only looking back in hopes of having someone “tell me whatever came of what I left behind.”

Haunting in its raw honesty, “Asheville Skies,” paired with the following cut, “Getaway,” deliver a one-two punch in the gut of those on the receiving end of the dialogue. Softly and directly, the band slices the heart of the listener, inflicting tiny paper cuts with pages from the lyric sheets.

Haunting throughout, the album is tinged with a ghostly element of abandonment. “Shooting Shadow,” for example, highlights a vulnerability rarely displayed publicly. As the song’s narrator opens his heart to the party for which it is intended, his exposure and self-awareness possess a razor-like rawness, which is able to worm its way into the heart of the listener.

“There is a tendency to get really precious about a performance when you’re in the studio,” Ryan tells us. “There is this intense hyper-focus. We wanted recording to be a little more fearless, a little more … inventive like we are live. We are very comfortable on stage. We’ve only been in the studio four days per studio album … so eight days total compared to something like 500 days of shows, so we wanted to make an album that is more contextually similar to what we’re like every night.” This element makes the songwriting even more sobering. With a feeling of confession, the lyrics run through the listener as though they’re being delivered for therapeutic purposes rather than for album sales. “Shooting Shadow” highlights that in a way that no track has in 2015 — my apologies, Sufjan fans.

The result is an record that sounds like the band is playing on your couch rather than crafting inside a studio. Their unconventional approach of recording in buses, empty venues and churches along the way, makes Monterey the most honest album that could have been made.

It is for this reason that the Milk Carton Kids should have no fear that what they do will matter or last. It will most certainly stand the test of time.
Beat Magazine
The Milk Carton Kids : Monterey
(by James Di Fabrizio)
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.
The Guardian
The Milk Carton Kids: Monterey review ? wistful, minimalist Americana
(by Neil Spencer)
3 stars out of 5

This California duo have cut a distinctive path through the Americana forest with their wistful close harmony singing and flat-picking guitars. Often reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel, they also share kinship with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, though they lack the latter’s stringency, especially on a fourth album that is minimalist to a fault. Recorded live in venues and churches before their audience arrived, Monterey has an intimate, forlorn beauty, but too many of its songs slip past in a gentle blur. The yearning Secrets of the Stars, the bluegrass-tinged City of Our Lady and the anti-militarist High Hopes are exceptions. Classy nonetheless.
NPR: All Things Considered
Review: 'Monterey,' The Milk Carton Kids
(by Tom Moon)

The Milk Carton Kids want to be a part of your road journeys this summer. They're an indie-folk duo with a new album full of songs about being on the move. It's called "Monterey," and Tom Moon has our review.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: At this point, pop music might have reached road song overload. Every songwriter's got at least a few tunes that immortalize rootlessness and restlessness, that urge for going. With the hushed, questioning songs of "Monterey," The Milk Carton Kids aim to contribute to this canon.


THE MILK CARTON KIDS: (Singing) The city of our lady, queen of all the angels, lingers in the ringing of the iron mission bells. Changing all the faces, saving all the names. Everywhere we go we are the child of where we came. Everywhere we go we are the child of where we came.

MOON: The Milk Carton Kids constantly get compared to Simon & Garfunkel because of those serene two-part harmonies and also the contemplative zen-riddle nature of the lyrics. Many of these songs explore the feeling of disconnectedness, of being physically in one place while yearning for another.


THE MILK CARTON KIDS: (Singing) To all the dreams that I had in mind, come back to me by next year this time. Tell me whatever became of what I left behind.

MOON: This album is a travelogue in every sense. It was written and recorded while The Milk Carton Kids were touring last spring. The duo arranged to show up early to some theaters and captured songs on a laptop. Then at the tour's end, they spent a week recording and mixing at a church in Nashville to take advantage of the natural reverb in the vast space. The result is music that's more open and alive than anything The Milk Carton Kids have done so far.


THE MILK CARTON KIDS: (Singing) All this time I lived inside a memory, daylight creeping in through a crack in the weathered seam. Severing the ties and trembling, losing all the voices in the wind. And I long to hear the melody that one time played inside my mind. And to love another helplessly so breathing feels like putting out a fire.

MOON: The new album focuses on the part of the road trip when the wind dies down, the rush of the escape fades and there's time for introspection. Sometimes the duo gets bogged down with all the looking inward. But when these songs work, they evoke late-night journeys on deserted roads, and that might be the best way to encounter them.


THE MILK CARTON KIDS: (Singing) I can see the North Star from this bed.

SIEGEL: The album by The Milk Carton Kids is "Monterey." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.


THE MILK CARTON KIDS: (Singing) And I betrayed, rescued by the Milky Way.
Paste Magazine
The Milk Carton Kids: Just Plain Folk
(by Nancy Dunham)
Joey Ryan hesitates when asked about the super-charged applause he and Kenneth Pattengale—together they’re The Milk Carton Kids—received after performing at high-profile events including the January tribute to Emmylou Harris in Washington, D.C., and the more recent Americana Music Awards Nominations in Nashville.

“I do have a couple of things to say about those,” he says. “I don’t know why anybody thinks anything we have to say is funny. And the other thing is that I take The Smothers Brothers’ reference [made by many fans] is a fond one but…I intentionally have never seen a minute of that show… It does feel odd to accept the compliments and congratulations, though, because it’s really all just starting.”

That may well be true. The Kids formed in 2011, but the duo has traveled a long way in a very short time without a band, multimedia or even funky lighting.

“We always tell them to remove the [colored] gels and just have white light,” Ryan says. “That makes us feel bad, because [the lighting technicians] want to express their artistry too.”

Clearly, though, even such minor scenography would diminish from the Milk Carton Kids’ musical identity that advances that of the Everly Brothers, the Smothers Brothers or Simon & Garfunkel (even if it is done unknowingly).

The duo’s back-to-basics style is such a part of their lives that they wrote and recorded the majority of their just-released album Monterey while on tour, commandeering small theaters and other venues for the sessions. When they came off the road, they settled into a small Nashville church to finish recording the project.

The resultant 11 tracks on the album are clear odes to the tumbles and triumphs in life. Yes, the songs are simply, as the old saying goes, three chords and the truth. And that’s what makes it exquisite.

The lush guitar opening on “Asheville Skies” is just a prelude to the gorgeous harmonies that tell the story of dreams that never materialized, while “Secrets of the Stars” is a lush love song to life that begins with the achingly fervent lyric: “The only time I ever heard the voice of God was in the silence of the night in the arms of the one I love.”

Other stand out tracks include “Shooting Shadows,” a reflection on aging and losses, while one of the most up-tempo tracks on the album “The City of Our Lady,” is an uplifting “everywhere we go we are the child of where we came.”

“I am proud of the overall perspective that comes through on the work as a whole. There are so many different stories,” Ryan says. “A lot of the material has been perceived as kind of down and some explicitly are heard as lament, as times passed and things lost…But it’s important to us always to be somewhat consistent and show forward looking hope…

“That is how we feel, we can look around us and see everything wrong with world and ourselves but we are at the age where we have the perspective and can still feel entire world ahead of us. We are at a particular point where we haven’t lost our naïve sense of youthful immortality but at the same time we are gaining the beginning of wisdom.”

That seems especially important for the Grammy-nominated duo, which won the highly coveted 2013 Americana Music Festival Award for Emerging Artist of the Year.

The Milk Carton Kids have long been called “the next big thing” in music, an honorific that seemingly makes Ryan somewhat uncomfortable.

“I think luckily what are the expectations for an acoustic folk duo? I mean, how high can they be?” he says, talking about how audiences have moved from hero-worshipping such artists as the ‘60s folk phenomenon Donovan to expecting concert extravaganzas. “But to address the question seriously, we have been very intent on what we are doing, which is working within the limited framework of our instrumentation and talents—just the guitars and mics and our vocals. That has helped us stay on track, even as things around us evolve.”

Although he’s quick to note that suggested changes have been relatively minor—like a kick drum in front of one or both members—the duo have opted to avoid them as they avoid the gels over lights.

“What we do see and will concentrate on is a lot of need for growth in our writing and our performances,” he says. “Again, we are just beginning.”
LA Weekly
Milk Carton Kids? ?Monterey? finds strength in simplicity
(by Andy Hermann)
Los Angeles is a city of background noise. No matter where you are, listen close and you'll probably hear the distant thrum of freeway traffic or the buzz of a passing helicopter. We're so used to it, we barely notice it.

Maybe that explains why The Milk Carton Kids, the most successful folk duo to emerge from L.A. in recent years, are so obsessed with silence. They do notice the noise. They once asked a bar in Cleveland to unplug its beer refrigerator because the hum was too loud. As they became more established, they would play only at venues with no bar or food service inside the theater, so that their spare sound — two harmonizing voices and two acoustic guitars, amplified by only a single microphone — wouldn't have to compete with clinking silverware and rattling cocktail shakers.

"We're potentially too precious about our show," Joey Ryan admits, between bites of a Reuben at Greenblatt's Deli, down the hill from his Laurel Canyon home. He's the taller Milk Carton Kid, a 33-year-old with a deadpan demeanor and a mop of tousled brown hair. "But it's also a response to the fact that for four years we ran around North America with no options. We just had to play whatever room would have us."

Those four years culminated in The Milk Carton Kids' big break: an appearance in the Showtime documentary Another Day/Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis, which chronicled a one-off concert featuring music from and inspired by the 2013 Coen brothers film. Even alongside such luminaries as the Avett Brothers, Gillian Welch, Jack White and Joan Baez, Ryan and partner Kenneth Pattengale's breathtaking harmonies stood out. During a rehearsal performance of their song "Snake Eyes," the camera panned through the studio to reveal a quietly awestruck Marcus Mumford wiping a tear from his eye.

"That was the most nerve-racking three minutes of my life," says Ryan, who still believes that, as the new guys on the bill, they weren't so much rehearsing as auditioning. But he and Pattengale were thrilled when they saw that the cameras had captured both Mumford and Ethan Coen getting weepy. "We got lucky with that scene."

Ryan and Pattengale met at Hotel Cafe in late 2009. Both had worked for years as solo artists, but without much success. "Our albums as solo artists were defined by a lack of any discernible identity," says Ryan, who grew up in West L.A. "It was sort of disparate and floundering."

Pattengale, also 33, an Eagle Rock native who now splits his time between New York and Nashville, echoes this sentiment. "I spent eight years prior to Milk Carton Kids doing music that some people were interested in — not very many," he says with a self-deprecating laugh. He's baby-faced and quicker to scowl or smile than his more inscrutable partner. "When Joey and I started, it was very clear that we struck upon something that immediately resounded with people."

Those who love The Milk Carton Kids' music are nearly as enamored of Ryan and Pattengale's between-song banter, which breaks the spell of their gorgeous songs with dry, occasionally caustic humor. Ryan does most of the talking while Pattengale tunes — but when Pattengale does speak, he often undercuts his partner to hilarious effect. "I can be a bit of a dick from time to time," Pattengale admits.

"It was something we came by honestly," Pattengale says of their droll chemistry. Ryan naturally takes the lead, partly because he needs to tune less frequently and partly because, as Ryan notes, "It's the only time I get to be improvisational." During the duo's songs, only Pattengale's lead-guitar filigrees vary from night to night.

Banter was also, in the duo's early days, a necessary survival skill, honed to hold the audience's attention between songs in noisy bars and nightclubs. "It's not an easy thing to stand on a stage and have anything come out of your mouth that doesn't seem entirely ingratiating," Pattengale says. Asking for silence proved easier when it was done between jokes.

The Milk Carton Kids' mix of reverent songcraft and irreverent humor made them an immediate hit at Largo, the venue that has served as an unofficial hub for L.A.'s singer-songwriter community for two decades. And since moving from its old supper-club location on Fairfax into the Coronet Theatre on La Cienega in 2008, Largo is now the embodiment of Ryan and Pattengale's ideal space: a midsize room with no bar, good acoustics and an audience accustomed to giving quiet performers their rapt attention.

"Largo does everything exactly right," Ryan says. "I've yet to find fault with any of their practices." Pattengale calls it "the ideal 280-person listening room, certainly in the United States; I'd say that it probably gives anywhere in the world a run for its money."

Booking similar venues elsewhere around the country isn't easy. Pattengale and Ryan often find themselves at loggerheads with their own agents and management over decisions about where to play.

"It frustrates our agents," Ryan admits. But the frustration can be mutual. "You're telling me in Houston, Texas, there's not a fucking theater?" he says, recalling one particular dispute. "There is a theater in Houston, somewhere. It's just that everybody only thinks about the rock clubs. So we go on Google ... and we'll send the agents a list of seven places that would be perfect." (For their next tour, they'll play their Los Angeles stop at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, where the bar is in the lobby, on Oct. 1.)

Call them precious or high-maintenance, but as far as The Milk Carton Kids are concerned, it's worth sweating the small stuff in order to preserve the integrity of their melancholy, contemplative sound.

"From an artistic perspective, to me that's sacred," Pattengale says. "From a business perspective, I think it's crucial. The stupidest thing The Milk Carton Kids could ever do is go into a room where, five times during every song, somebody's shaking a mixed drink at a bar. What we do, that stuff gets in the way."
The Milk Carton Kids Monterey
(by Chris Conaton)
6 stars out of 10

It’s interesting that what the Milk Carton Kids do in concert—namely, putting on lively folk shows with amusing banter—doesn’t really translate into what they do on record. Live or recorded, their music consists of just two guys singing, harmonizing, and playing a pair of acoustic guitars. Monterey, the duo’s third album, is nearly devoid of lighthearted songs or even lyrics that reflect the cheekiness of their band name. No, this is a serious, sometimes dour affair, much of it consisting of songs so minimalist that even the guitars can feel like an afterthought. This doesn’t prevent it from being a good album; it just means it’s not a particularly fun listen.

The rich harmonies and wistful tone of opener “Asheville Skies” invites reviewers like me to keep making all of the easy comparisons of the Milk Carton Kids to Simon & Garfunkel. This is the kind of song that you could almost imagine being a lost B-side from that ‘60s duo, except for the two extended solos that show off a Spanish-influenced fingerpicking style, which definitely gives the Milk Carton Kids a bit of unique flavor. This turns out to be a harbinger of things to come. Whenever any sort of flavor beyond “minimalist folk” comes out, the songs on Monterey seem to rouse from their general sleepiness and develop their own identity.

“Getaway”, the album’s second song, would be a delightfully calm break on a different folk act’s record. An easygoing guitar line, with simple licks that seem almost improvised, sets the stage for an equally simple but effective melody. It’s very nice. But then the third song, “Monterey”, follows the exact same template, aside from a bit more of that Spanish guitar flavor. “Freedom” at least has a lyrical point of view about war and the military to give it heft that isn’t there musically. “Deadly Bells” and closer “Poison Tree” don’t have even those minor things to set them apart, so they just sort of quietly lie there.

Those songs only account for just over half of Monterey. The album’s best track, “Shooting Shadows”, has a musical tension to it as well as a lyrical specificity that sets it apart from the rest of the songs here. It helps that the song has a clear delineation between verse and chorus, and that the chorus works as a release valve for the tension of the verses. It feels like the duo put some real songwriting work in on this one instead of just sort of lightly strumming chords to support the melody and fingerpicking whatever they felt like in between the lyrics.

“Secrets of the Stars”, co-written by Sarah Jarosz, has a livelier tempo and more active guitar parts to give the song a bit of momentum. Similarly, “High Hopes” benefits from its fast tempo and fast guitars. The way the chorus (“I’ve got high / I’ve got high / I’ve got high hopes tonight / I’ve got high alright”) leans on the word “high” makes one wonder if the song’s narrator, on his way to fight in a war, is indulging in some mind-altering substances. It’s the one instance on Monterey of that aforementioned cheeky attitude, which is refreshing. The short, bluegrassy “The City of Our Lady” also feels more awake due to its positive outlook and upbeat sound.

The songs on Monterey are uniformly pretty, due to the excellent harmonizing of Ken Pettengale and Joey Ryan, but the downcast vibe the record has seems like it will limit its appeal to very specific sections of the folk and Americana audiences. Still, the Milk Carton Kids have been doing this sort of thing for three records now. Since their audience apparently includes the producers of Austin City Limits (who have given the duo two appearances in the last two years) and the de facto Americana music heads of state in Nashville, so they must be doing a lot of things right. It probably helps that duo themselves are so personable, even when their music isn’t. The flashes of musical personality Pettengale and Ryan show on Monterey are what makes album a good outing overall and keep it from being a full-scale downer.
LA Daily News
Milk Carton Kids? ?Monterey? finds strength in simplicity
(by Sam Gnerre)
3 Stars

Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale of Eagle Rock continue to fashion their own folk music revival with “Monterey,” their third album under the Milk Carton Kids moniker.

You say Mumford & Sons beat them to it? No, this is something completely different.

Instead of stomping, high-energy sing-along choruses, the tracks on “Monterey” employ close vocal harmonies and intricate all-acoustic guitar playing to create the quiet brand of beauty one hears in Simon & Garfunkel and the Everly Brothers at their most ethereal and subdued.

The duo recorded half the album on the road and the other half in a Nashville church in order to re-create the intimate feel of its live performances. The results might not rock your world, but tracks such as “Getaway” and the exquisite “Shooting Shadows” forge power and resonance from the most basic of elements: the delicate interplay of human voices backed by the duo’s elegantly flat-picked guitars.

A certain sameness of sound does creep into more somber songs such as “Deadly Bells,” which makes livelier tunes such as “The “City of Our Lady” seem charged with energy by comparison.

On the whole, though, it’s remarkable how much substance and resilience the Milk Carton Kids conjure up using such an austere musical palette.

The Milk Carton Kids is scheduled to play Oct. 1 at The Theatre at Ace Hotel, one of the amazing vintage movie palaces still standing on Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles.
Folk Radio UK
The Milk Carton Kids - Monterey
(by Paul Woodgate)
In a recent interview with No Depression, Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale took time out to try and articulate the difference between art and artifice, specifically, uncritical reviews, as well as the role of the touring musician, the personality behind the guitar, and whether the two remain compatible after months on the road. As evidenced by their deliberately free-wheeling discussions live, Joey and Kenneth, or as they are better known, The Milk Carton Kids, enjoy a robust on-stage relationship that fuels their artistry. Neither appears to have an answer to where the person ends and the music begins – that puzzle is one part of what makes the Milk Carton Kids so special.

On the road, it’s a positive to be able to pack two guitars, two microphones and a backline up and move to the next hall; no fireworks, no dancing girls, no convoy of articulated trucks burning up the tarmac. Their compact nature is another element of the band persona. In concert, they always stand facing each other, fretboards inches away from touching, Pattengale leaning in and out of Ryan’s personal space as he discovers places on the guitar few others dare to tread. Everything you see suggests they’ve created a protective bubble around themselves; everything you hear is gloriously broad and deep, the most flamboyant yet controlled sweeps of the brush against canvas.

If you include their free-to-download albums, Monterey is their fourth studio release. Whilst there were gems on Retrospect and Prologue, it was 2013s The Ash and Clay that elevated their status, its strength lying in the consistency and quality of the material. No one doubted their skill before, but The Ash and Clay showcased their musicality without losing sight of the song. A higher profile led to whole sections of the critical media, professional and otherwise, labelling them as little more than poor Simon and Garfunkel imitators. This is a particularly shallow and ignorant perception seemingly generated by thirty second previews on i-Tunes. The Milk Carton Kids blew through these views in the traditional way; they took to the road and earned their place on the tour treadwheel. Their hard work has been rewarded of late with an Americana award and a Grammy nomination; in-between shows and events, they’ve dipped in and out of studios to record Monterey.

As such, Monterey is very much a road album, and represents a consolidation of the work on The Ash and Clay rather than a bold move forwards. This makes sense; there’s only so much soul-searching and investigation you can do in the back of a car and during sound-checks. There are no forays into radical (for them) instrumentation, no guest spots or clever production techniques. In terms of craft, there was always the possibility that Kenneth’s exploration of his Gibson would unbalance the delicate status-quo, but this hasn’t happened. Only the opening track Asheville Skies features a coda that allows him to venture forth on the folk-equivalent of a Grateful Dead wig out and even then it’s completely in keeping with the troubled weather inherent in the title. This is heartening so early on in the album and the remainder goes a long way to dissolving any negative arguments about where the power lies in The Milk Carton Kids; the creative burden is shared. In fact, Joey’s baritone and elegant rhythm remains the foundation on which the edifice rests – on Monterey he sounds in control, the homing beacon Kenneth spirals to and from on flights of fantasy that only take your breath away because you know he’ll make it home before the song finishes.

Asheville Skies is a gentle re-introduction, but they hit paydirt soon after on Getaway, a lattice of web-thin arpeggios and runs that skitter over Joey’s gentle rhythm, their voices barely above a whisper yet full of round-sounding vowels and full-to-the-brim couplets. It’s a beautiful song, the type that makes you sit back in your chair, expel air in a stream of dis-belief and shake your head in wonder. Monterey wears its origins on its sleeve – ‘I can hear the road call.. I can see the north star overhead’, a line of descending melody lines and Joey’s loping guitar emulating the steps of a journey while Kenneth’s Latin flavoured lead emotes over the top. At this point, nothing has breached walking pace. Under normal circumstances this might soon become an issue, but The Milk Carton Kids work is designed to be enjoyed like vintage single malt; the small sipping, gently reflective pace provides every note and every space in-between time to resonate.

Their skill with words is often overlooked as connoisseurs of the six-string go looking for the latest curlicue and fret position, but they can turn a phrase and couplet as well as any. How about this from Getaway, ‘Outside Tuscaloosa, the time you thought you’d turned it all around / Remember you used to think, you could salvage anything you found’, or this declamatory opening to Secrets Of The Stars, ‘The only time I ever heard the voice of God / Was in the silence of the night, in the arms of the one I love / Staring at the ceiling up above / Like it contained the secrets of the stars’. The subtle protest of Freedom reminds us that Joey and Kenneth aren’t afraid of delivering a message – ‘Screaming as the shots ring out / That’s what freedom sounds like now’ – the chiming guitars and simple delivery akin to an updated protest track from American Pie.

Shooting Shadows adopts a conversational lyric on a series of vignettes that Joey’s ragged vocal inhabits with empathy while Kenneth’s tenor rides the melody line. There are traces of Appalachia in The City Of Our Lady, and in Sing, Sparrow, Sing, a lullaby of exquisite beauty proves the old adage that the song is in the spaces.

Monterey is short by comparison with a lot of new releases these days, the eleven tracks will only cost you 38 minutes of your time. It’s the briefest of glimpses into the Carton Kid’s world and provides no answer to the questions posed at the beginning of this review. This is is a good thing. The need to push at the boundaries of their musical and personal connections is one that results in music that is both fragile and underwritten by a steely, questing, restless narrative, a wish to find the best of themselves and their instruments and in doing so, reclaim ‘art’ from artifice. As often happens with the important artists, it feels like we’re just along for the ride and The Milk Carton Kids are important. The need to question the semantics of performer and performance, and to disagree on the likely result is a key component of their make-up, the tension that warrants attention. It should be a comfort that they will continue to do so regardless of whether you listen or not, and if you choose to, you’ll be glad you did; Monterey is wonderful.
The Boston Globe
The Milk Carton Kids, ?Monterey?
(by James Reed)
The Milk Carton Kids usually tell a joke at the start of their live performances. They point out that not much happens during their shows, so the audience might as well snap a few photos while they strike some poses. Laughs ensue. But it’s also indicative of how the folk duo of Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, both superb vocalists and guitarists, have no use for artifice. Their unvarnished songs are, as the old saying goes, three chords and the truth. They recorded half their new third album, “Monterey,” on the road, playing in empty venues before showtime, and the other songs were tracked at a church in Nashville. No wonder the recording burrows so deeply into your mind; this is the closest they’ve come to capturing the majestic intimacy of their concerts. It’s no slight to say there’s not much here beyond the classic songcraft, the splendor of their high-lonesome harmonies, and the way their guitars entwine and frame the songs so beautifully. That’s enough to cast a spell. (Out Tuesday)
American Songwriter
The Milk Carton Kids: Monterey
(by Jim Beviglia)
3.5 out of 5 stars

Not too much has changed on The Milk Carton Kids’ third full-length. On Monterey, a fine if not revelatory album, listeners are still treated to the gorgeous close harmonies and acoustic guitar interplay of Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale. Ryan, who sings lead, plays the rhythmic foundation that allows Pattengale to conjure all kinds of settings and emotions with his lead picking while he also sings high harmony parts. The gentility of this formula should continue to provide a balm for fans worn out by the more intense folk revivalists on the scene.

With this framework in place, it’s hard for Ryan and Pattengale to ever sound bad. Even when individual songs don’t stand out from the pack, there’s always a harmony swoon or guitar flourish that impresses. When they’ve got the songs to match the beauty of the presentation, the resulting music makes you sit up and take notice even as its hushed nature cools your jets.

On Monterey, songs like “Shooting Shadows” and “Poison Tree” saddle their narrators with a kind of indefinable malaise, yet Ryan and Pattengale make it a sumptuous angst. “Getaway” hints at the wounds of childhood lingering well past the initial sting, while “Secrets Of The Stars” waxes poetic for the unattainable ideal of love: “To love another helplessly/ So breathing feels like putting out a fire.”

The duo has a knack for affecting turns of phrases such as that, which helps offset the lack of finite details to ground the songs on Monterey. Besides, the intangible nature of the lyrics plays well off the weightlessness of the music. On “Freedom,” however, a welcome bit of feistiness creeps in, as the pair bemoan how the meaning of the title word has become distorted beyond all recognition: “Screaming as the shots ring out/ That’s what freedom sounds like now.” That outstanding track demonstrates that The Milk Carton Kids’ style evokes edgy frustration as exceptionally as it does quiet reflection.
LA Times
Premiere: Milk Carton Kids' 'Poison Tree' video tackles loneliness
(by Randy Lewis)
Los Angeles' Milk Carton Kids — Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan — have stepped out from behind the curtain, so to speak, and appear for the first time on camera in one of their music videos, “Poison Tree,” from their new album, “Monterey,” which arrives today.

Actor Kristopher McAffee plays a shopping mall security guard whose solitary existence is buoyed in a surprising way by memories of a love from his younger days. Fittingly, the video was shot at Eagle Rock Plaza in the duo’s hometown.

Pattengale and Ryan emphasize their Simon & Garfunkel roots in the new album, which taps some of the same sense of wistful reflection of the latter’s folksy 1966 album “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme,” and parts of 1968’s “Bookends.”

It’s been an auspicious couple of years since the 2013 release of their previous album, “The Ash & Clay.” Pattengale and Ryan attracted the attention of Americana music superstar producer T Bone Burnett and were invited to be part of his concert “Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis” that grew out of the Coen brothers film set in New York’s folk music scene of the early 1960s.

“The Ash & Clay” earned the Milk Carton Kids a folk music album Grammy nomination and the duo was named group of the year at the 2014 Americana Music Awards.

Their 2015 summer-fall tour will bring them back to Los Angeles for a show Oct. 1 at the Theater at Ace Hotel downtown.
Glide Magazine
(by Maeri Ferguson)
8 stars out of 10

The Milk Carton Kids are preserving folk music as they know and love it, whether it’s performing in their suits on stage, or keeping every song as simple as can be with just acoustic guitars and vocals. On their darkest record yet, Monterey, a follow up to 2013’s stupendous The Ash and Clay, they’ve tapped into that old timey, 1960s folk sound more than ever before. Their wispy, soft harmonies play out continuously from start to finish, as they sing their most grown-up songs yet.

Though at times Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan create a sound that’s a near exact replica of Simon and Garfunkel, they have still established their own voices in the folk scene. Spending the last couple of years touring constantly, these two have built up a sturdy following. Their onstage presence is funny, witty, intelligent and warm, and they put on a hell of a show, leaving crowded rooms so silent you can hear a pin drop. Their ability to be wholly themselves and still pay heavy homage to a duo that clearly influenced them is impressive.

The songs on Monterey are so smooth, and the harmonies so balanced, after awhile, Pattengale and Ryan’s voices begin to meld together as one. Save for “Deadly Bells”, every song is a constant duet, which makes this track feel especially fresh and unexpected. Paired with the anticipatory building of the acoustic guitar solo, it’s one of Monterey’s best.

The overall theme on Monterey seems to be one of regret, looking backward and feeling nostalgic for a past once escaped. Escapism shows up frequently on songs like “Asheville Skies” and “Getaway”, both haunting tales of crushed dreams and leaving your reality. The latter is especially gloomy, telling a tale of a haunted childhood and running from the past. “Remember how you used to think//You could salvage anything you found,” they sing. “I never found my getaway,” they continue, but you’re confident they have, in fact, found it in their music. This one is particularly poignant, as Milk Carton Kids have mastered salvaging the elements of classic folk music that speak to them. Lyrics about humanity and inward searching, and songs very much of a place and time, their music is proof that when it’s done right, simpler is better.

There aren’t really any upbeat foot stompers on Monterey. It can occasionally feel sleepy, but that never seems to take away from its beauty, and definitely keeps things dark. Even “High Hopes”, which picks up the pace a bit, is not fun or joyful. It’s a historic story of bloodshed, with whimsically forboding guitars.“Poison Tree” is the true standout on Monterey. It’s packed with power, even though it’s about a deep depression. It feels the most current and present in a collection of songs that are so much about the past. The title track is idyllic, but gloomy, as it describes a foggy, grey ocean landscape. The guitar solos often sound improvised, melodic but unpredictable, as if the two of them have completely lost themselves in their music. And as a listener, it’s especially easy to lose yourself when you hear their wistful harmonies.
Relix Magazine
The Milk Carton Kids: Monterey
(by J. Poet)
In the last two years, The Milk Carton Kids—Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale—have thrived while logging endless one-night stands and garnering a Best Folk Album Grammy nomination for their national debut, The Ash & Clay. They return with another winning collection driven by their solid acoustic guitars and pristine Everly Brothers-influenced harmonies. The tunes were polished on the road and the performances here show the duo’s growing confidence as songwriters and vocalists, sporting lyrics that are just as musical as the melodies that support them. Pattengale’s lead guitar gives “Getaway,” the story of a young man trying to escape a dysfunctional family, a subtle Tex-Mex feel, but lyrics like, “A rattled chain still rattles loud” remind us that there’s no escape. The gently cynical “Freedom” is a subtle anti-war song asking if freedom is worth fighting and dying for, with Pattengale’s guitar tolling mournfully like a far-off funeral bell. “Poison Tree” is a Latin-flavored ballad with Grady Martin-style guitar fills that add a poignant flavor to a tale of mortality and ecological devastation. Everything here is brimming over with the heart and soul of folk music, and Pattengale’s impressive lead guitar adds its sparkling magic to every tune.
Country Standard Time
The Milk Carton Kids ? Monterey
(by Lee Zimmerman)
The Milk Carton Kids may be one of the most unlikely Americana contenders of the past few years. Relying solely on dual acoustic guitars and close-knit harmonies, they look and sound like an introspective folk duo circa the mid '60s - think Simon and Garfunkel, Peter and Gordon, or Chad and Jeremy - while their ability to randomly toss off a wisecrack or a self-deprecating aside just as easily brings the Smothers Brothers to mind. Yet, in the two years since their sophomore set, "The Ash & Clay," the Kids - aka Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale - have received all kinds of kudos from fans and tastemakers alike, setting up a high standard and raising the bar for "Monterey."

Of course, there are worse things than finding yourself steadily ascending the rungs towards superstardom, especially if you don't find yourself forced to trade artistic intent for commercial success. Given that acceptance, they could hardly have been blamed if they simply opted to make the new album in the usual orthodox way. Yet, rather than entering another recording studio, they opted instead to record in a variety of locales, specifically the venues that they found themselves in on tour, a scenario that allowed them to soak up a different ambiance and forsake the strict regimen that comes with the typical studio scenario.

Produced by the duo and recorded and mixed by Pattengale, "Monterey" presented something of a risky situation. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be accurate to suggest that it boasts any hint of a celebratory sound. Quite to the contrary in fact, these songs unfold in a series of unsettled set-ups, combining a hint of turbulence and turmoil with a contemplative quality that digs deep into the human psyche. Though sparse and unadorned, "Monterey" is still a preferred place to be.
Consequence Of Sound
The Milk Carton Kids ? Monterey
(by Lyndsey Havens)
On their latest album, The Milk Carton Kids further indulge in their trademarked soft-spoken simplicity. It sounds as though the duo of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan reached their sonic comfort zone and decided to stay. Their new album, Monterey, creates a melancholy mood that could cast an insomniac into a peaceful sleep. The duo, clearly influenced by Simon & Garfunkel, carry cathartic harmonies over a range of simple yet skillful strumming. But, lyrically, the two used the road as inspiration for their new album, recording in various venues across the country while longing for the comforts of home.

Open-ended questions sprinkle the album, directed at no one in particular. “Monterey, how can I say I’ll always stay, then slip away,” the album’s title track asks. On opener “Asheville Skies”, they lose track of time: “Good God, is it November?” The two speak slowly, uttering each verse in synchronized whispers, as if only speaking to each other, allowing for an array of airy guitar solos to fill open space.

On “High Hopes” and “The City of Our Lady,” strumming overwhelms the vocals and the two tap into a Trampled By Turtles vibe, if that band were to play in slow motion. These tracks stand as the most uplifting and, relatively, up-tempo on the album, which elsewhere mostly melts into a single sound.

A bitter undercurrent builds until the duo reach honesty on the 11th and final track, “Poison Tree”. “It’s a little cold and I’m a little down … I get a little angry a little bit each day,” they sing, followed by over 60 seconds of subdued strumming as the album drifts off, coming to an unremarkable close. The understated simplicity of Monterey reflects the duo’s discontent, while the absence of any memorable moment should cause listeners to feel the same.
No Depression
The Milk Carton Kids: Not Pissing Anybody Off
(by Kim Ruehl)
The Milk Carton Kids are not going to add a rhythm section, or a keyboard. They’re not going to sing political folk songs or shake their hips. They’re not the second coming of Simon & Garfunkel or the Smothers Brothers, or any other duo to whom they’ve been compared (for their harmonies and humor, respectively, no doubt). 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.

It’s a simple thing, really, you’d think. 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?” It’s like what a poet does with haiku or sonnet. If you don’t understand the form, it all starts to sound the same. But for the artist, limitation can be the greatest challenge. Because while that’s a lovely philosophical question in and of itself, what makes the form of the “folksinger duo” so compelling is what each individual brings, and what their combination produces. In this case, one need only sit with Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale for a short time to realize these are a couple of complicated guys, whose collective mind works somewhat like a Rube Goldberg machine.

Which is not to say that The Milk Carton Kids is an experimental music duo, by any stretch of the imagination. They’re the first to admit that their first two recordings didn’t differ much from one to the next, in terms of style and attack. A casual listener or lazy critic might see this as a lack of growth or imagination. Of course, at the very least those people would have some beautiful harmonies and easy-on-the-ear arrangements to listen to. At most, they’d be missing the point entirely.

The point, however, is not lost on the two men who make up this duo.

This February, I sat down with them during Folk Alliance in Kansas City. There wasn’t really an agenda to our interview. News about their arresting, nail-on-the-head new album Monterey (out May 19 on Anti- Records) had not yet been announced. Though our conversation eventually turned in that direction, I really just turned on my recorder and asked what they wanted to talk about. I’m including most of our conversation below, starting with a discussion about something I wrote, not because I appreciate their appreciation of my appreciation of Punch Brothers (though I do), but because of where it led our conversation.

Those who have caught The Milk Carton Kids live in concert will know that conversation between these two can be meandering and lovingly antagonistic, usually riddled with sarcasm and irony, eventually landing somewhere close to what they actually mean to say. It’s important to frame this interview as such, since it might otherwise seem all over the place.

Like a good guitar solo – something these two know a thing or two about – there are some notes that don’t seem to fit into the key, but they must be struck to get us where the song is going. In fact, that’s what their music is about: chasing the melody, finding strength in the silence between notes, freedom in limitation.

Joey Ryan: Someone was talking about how we don’t have any faith in anybody to know what they’re listening for.

Kenneth Pattengale: There’s a breeze in here.

JR: No there’s not. [laughs]

KP: What are you talking about? Are you telling this fascinating story about the German guy?

JR: No, no. She wrote an article about Punch Brothers new record. ... [A friend of mine] was saying that all the people who were writing about it – first of all nobody was writing about it. And the people who were, were distracted by how they look like a bluegrass band but aren’t a bluegrass band. They just didn’t understand the point of the record, musically or lyrically or thematically, but the whole thing couldn’t be more obvious. I [said,] ‘Did you see the one article on No Depression that totally gets it?’ And he was like, ‘That was the one. There was one person that totally captured what a proper music review should be of the thing.’

KP: So this interview is going to be about your music journalism as seen by The Milk Carton Kids, as told by [Joey's friend]. [laughs]

JR: No, because this article does everything a music review is supposed to do. It gives you a perspective on Kim as a person, historically where she’s coming from. When I finish reading the article, I feel like it’s enhanced my own ability to listen and receive the album, but also I kind of know you a little bit and I also would like to know more. It’s just a delightful, insightful, helpful thing to read while listening to the album. That never happens. Music reporters and writers suck and don’t know what they’re doing, except for you. [laughs]

KP: What my problem is on that front, is that there don’t seem to be music reviewers that will offer any negative opinions anymore. This is the most fucked-up part. All these people who are writing are whining a little bit about Punch Brothers supposing to be a bluegrass band, but they’re not. [Those reviewers] can whine in a context that’s preordained to be acceptable because they know they’re not going to ruffle any feathers, really. But I would like to read the review of someone who disliked the Punch Brothers record and wrote why in a smart way. But nobody does that anymore.

Kim Ruehl: Well, maybe nobody wants to piss anybody off.

JR: I wrote an article that I never thought was good enough to send anybody after the first time [we played] Newport Folk Festival, titled, “Nobody’s Pissing Anybody Off.” It wasn’t actually about music reporters, it was more about artists. Because the artists aren’t pissing anybody off either. Everybody’s really happy with everybody else.

KP: Until you sit down to dinner with people. [laughs]

I watched a video the other day that one of my coworkers insisted I watch before I talk to you guys today…

JR: Oh, god, that one? We’ve got to pull that down. That’s from Seattle in, uh, Kenneth knows the date literally of every single show we’ve ever played, within a couple days. Sometimes you’re off by a day or two.

KP: That one was June 18, plus or minus a day. Actually no let me take this back. That was June 15.

JR: I didn’t want that to go online, that interview.

KP: What interview?

JR: The Fretboard Journal one.

KP: Oh yeah, I broke my rule and read the YouTube comments on it and everybody says, “Boy, Kenneth Pattengale is an asshole.” [laughs] So they got that right. … Jason Verlinde didn’t know what he was in for that day. What was your impression of the video?

I thought it was kind of hilarious.

KP: You enjoyed it? My problem with it is this: I am just generally self-loathing, but in that video we were two months into a two-and-a-half-month tour and I was alcohol-logged, bloated, and … I was at my end … and then I did a 30-minute thing and I probably didn’t say anything positive in that interview. Whatever.

I thought it was good because it was a real moment. You could tell you’d been on the road for a while. You were being real.

JR: I like being antagonistic with each other, because that’s how we push each other. But the spirit of it when we actually get upset with each other goes into a whole other…

KP: We weren’t upset with each other during that video.

JR: I was upset.

KP: Well that’s a personal problem. … Oh, I see. You thought I was tanking the interview.

JR: No, I think it’s important to be antagonistic for the sake of the content of what we’re talking about [in our music], but the tendency to be sort of personally attacking is something we can also fall into.

KP: Was I personally attacking you?

JR: Yeah.

KP: I don’t remember that. I remember being grumpy and attacking writers that say the thing [about a song revealing itself to the writer].

JR: Yeah but I had just said that and then you… whatever. We’re now going to argue over whether we were arguing. [laughs]

KP: Well that’s why it was funny. That wasn’t personal. You’re a big softy, Joey Ryan.

JR: Well then maybe it was just me who was trying to personally insult you. … I get embarrassed when we let ourselves get off into that level of communication, rather than remaining productive in our antagonism, which we’ve been pretty good at. That antagonism has been essential to our relationship, to be mindful of when the arguments become personal as opposed to content-related.

KP I can’t say I agree. And you’re an idiot. [both laugh]

I want to know about why artists don’t piss each other off. You were starting to talk about that a few minutes ago.

JR: Artists don’t piss each other off. And we don’t either.

KP: Well I’m glad your article didn’t come out because actually it turned out … the guy’s a phony.

JR: Well, the point was to say – throughout the festival there was no element of subversion whatsoever, except [this one] set, which it turned out later was a show. The first set, the first time I’d been exposed to him, he was pissing people off. A lot of people. He took the entire festival to task – he took all the sponsors of the festival to task for being falsely branded old-timey and folky. Like that moonshine that sponsors the festival, that comes in mason jars.

KP: He’s like, ‘Oh you’re happy sitting there drinking your moonshine out of your mason jars,’ and Joey was like, ‘Yee! This is fun!’ But he’s a phony. The guy’s a big phony. He writes about going on dates with girls in Los Angeles and how it’s so hard, then he dances around like a rooster.

JR: Everyone’s sitting around in the sunshine, enjoying their old timey aesthetic, and he was calling everyone out on it. He said, ‘Everybody rides their bike and they all recycle,’ and he’s going, ‘Don’t fool yourself. The carbon footprint of this festival is nothing to be proud of. Even as good of a job as everyone thinks they’re doing, we’re still fucking it up.’

Sarcastically. ‘Sorry to ruin your sunny day sitting on the lawn, but you’re still fucking everything up. That moonshine you’re drinking is not moonshine. That’s made in a loft in Brooklyn by a trust-fund kid and distributed to boutique markets with an old timey font. That’s not moonshine. That’s a marketing aesthetic.’

Whether I agree with him or not, the point was, it just felt totally subversive, even to the people who are supposed to be the ones doing the subverting. In that way, it was temporarily inspiring to me and shocking. We don’t even try to be subversive.

KP: And nobody should. I hope your inspiration was dampened by the realization that that’s not part of music anymore. In hindsight, that’s what we always think the music of the '60s and '70s was about – subversion.

JR: Or punk music, or the stuff from the underground, which naturally has an element of subversion to it, which you don’t really see anymore.

Except for Kanye. He pisses people off.

JR: That’s also just marketing. He’s trying to launch a clothing brand.

KP: I can’t stand it. And I’m glad people find us to be entertaining, if anything that we do resounds, it’s because we’re trying to have an honest go at being the best musicians that we can. I think, ironically, because we’re not really super great musicians, the struggle for us to find that becomes entertaining. But that’s in a wholly vain, insular, world dominated and run by us. If that’s entertaining, whatever. We’re not saying anything larger about the world or solving anybody’s problems or telling anybody how they should behave or anything. That’s not the place of music anymore. I wish it was. I wish people looked to music for that, but that’s not it. The whole thing is an accessory.

JR: Do you think that’s the role of music?

No. Not really, not these days. I do appreciate it when it does that well without being preachy. But it’s not entirely true that you don’t comment. On The Ash and Clay, you talk about a lot of stuff. It’s not just about you and “Oh I love this girl.”

KP: No, we actively reject that. But “The Ash and Clay,” that’s a song I wrote in 30 minutes because it was a song that we could go onstage and sing honestly every night. That’s the thought that I had, but it’s not meant to be overreaching.

When you think about the way John Prine writes songs, as forward and brash as he is in all of his subject matter, John Prine songs don’t work if he’s not so subjective and hyper-personal about it. His personality comes over even bigger than the large shit he’s talking about. I’m not comparing “The Ash and Clay” to any John Prine song, because it’s not meant to be a call to arms in any kind of way, or an eye-opener. It’s meant to be an observation, a personal thought that’s worded in a way that isn’t accessed through matters of the heart or romantic cliché. If that resounds with people, awesome, but that wasn’t the point.

When Josh Tillman goes on at length, chastising audiences for coming to his show and paying his bills or whatever, I get his point, but do I fucking care? No. It would actually be a more pleasant experience to see that guy, who seems like a genuinely talented and good musician, if his thing was something where you watch it and it feels honest. But it seems like he’s using himself in a way that’s just off-putting.

JR: Interesting. What appealed to me about him at that festival – maybe I’m making it out to be something different than it was – was just that he was expressing a different emotion than absolutely every other person. He was expressing anger and frustration, and there was no other anger or frustration. It made people uncomfortable to see someone expressing anger and frustration on a sunny day on a grassy field at a folk festival, when people are singing about love or politics that we all agree on, or any of the other accepted subject matter for a folk festival. He came out of left field, the whole place of intention that he was coming from. ... I don’t know almost any of his songs, except for what he played that day, but that day he strung together a set of songs that had tension, and then I fell in love.

We don’t know him at all, and here we are talking so much about him. I just saw that one set.

What’s your new record about?

JR: I still have not clarified my thoughts about what to say the album is about.

KP: Time to start clarifying there, buck-o!

Well, how do you even talk about an album? You guys spend so much time playing live and writing songs and collecting songs, but do you think of it as a product, or … how do you start thinking of it more as a collection rather than songs you throw into your set?

JR: It’s sort of ad hoc, I think. Assigning meaning to the work is a whole thing.

On the last album we had a very clear directive we gave ourselves which tied the record together thematically. I think incidentally this album came together in a way that’s a reaction to that. It wasn’t explicit. We didn’t explicitly give ourselves marching orders about what we were trying to achieve on this album, other than the methodology of making the album. The real intention that drove a lot of the way the album came together was just in the way we were going to make the album, which was making it on tour, recording it on stages, not in studios, Kenneth engineering, not having anyone else in the room. This doesn’t’ speak at all to the content of the songs or what the album was about, but to the extent that there was a clear directive that guided the process, it was that

We’re not going to go into a studio.
We’re not going to make it all in the same place.
Every time we give a performance, it’s very unclear whether or not that performance has to be the one that ends up on the record.
We made the album over seven or eight months, so that every time we gave a performance, we always knew we had the next day to do it again. To me, because of that freedom and lack of pressure in every given performance, the performances we selected for the album are incredibly liberated and spontaneous.

KP: It’s like a jazz record. There’s no stigma in the jazz world if you go and play the same song 300 times over 20 years. There are recordings of Miles Davis playing the same song 250 times. There’s something about the structure of jazz music, obviously that validates that, because so much is improvisational. When it comes to the way I contribute to the band with my guitar playing, there’s a through-line there. It’s entirely improvisational. The 100 nights a year that we play on the road, half of them, I’ll tell you with a complete straight face that I’m utter shit on the guitar. People might not agree with me, but if you see the next night maybe you have a different opinion.

JR: I agree with you but only in comparison to the nights when you’re firing. But even on your worst nights, it’s fine, it sounds good.

KP: My point is that it’s always context-dependent and quite different … [but] you can’t really expect people to receive the music that way. This record, to me, is but one set of the performances of probably what will be the next two years of these songs. I imagine a year from now we’ll make another DVD – I guess DVD Is an antiquated word now – but a film, that might capture what’s happening a year from now and probably a lot of the same songs will be on there, and they’re going to be completely different versions on account of the fact that [an album is] just a document, it’s just a snapshot.

The first two albums we made … when you have the structure both mentally and physically of going into a studio and making what’s supposed to be the definitive version of a song, there’s an unnatural, strange energy and pressure that starts to exact itself on the decisions you’re making and the performances you get. I found it to be very stifling when it came to both Prologue and The Ash and Clay. I think all of those performances sound tight and lacking of a purpose or an honesty or truth. We’ve probably performed “Michigan” 400 times now, and my guess is that the album version goes somewhere in at about number 300. I’d rather have 300 other versions of that be the one that everybody listens to. To whatever extent that we could give ourselves even the possibility of getting some of those recordings to be the thing on this album, I think we did it.

I’m on a little bit of a break from listening to it. I guess it’s about three weeks old now, the album. But Joey went back and stated listening to it lately. Even in that, he started hearing things that he wouldn’t have honed in on when we were checking it as we went… hopefully we allowed ourselves enough of the dynamics and enough of the roughness around the edges, that it’ll be something that has a number of sides to it.

JR: I find, because of the way we made it, similar to a jazz record, the specific performance that’s on the record, is an important feature of the record and it might call attention to itself, as much as the song or the lyrics or the harmonies, which are completely written and composed and not at all improvisational. But that’s the stuff that I don’t really know what to say about, to talk about lyrically and thematically what the album is saying.

KP: Who ever wanted to know that anyway? One of my favorite albums of all time is Tom Waits Mule Variations. I don’t want to know what that guy says the album’s about.

JR: Does he say that it’s about anything?

KP: No, but Tom waits never would, probably.

JR: What do you say when somebody asks you that?

KP: What that record’s about? Who cares? Just go listen to it.

JR: But somebody just asked you and they’re sitting in front of you, so what do you say? You, as the artist, are sitting here with Kim Ruehl and she asks you what this album is about.

KP: Not relevant. It’s not relevant.

JR: But that’s insulting to the person who asked the question.

KP: No it’s not. It’s relevant to the conversation we’re having.

No, I think it makes sense. It’s perfect, actually, because I’m sitting here and I have no idea what we’re going to talk about. I didn’t know you have a new record coming and then I thought, even if you do have a new record coming, I haven’t heard it, so the “Tell me about your new record” conversation would be kind of boring. I have a hard time thinking of you as recording artists because what you do is more about what you do live. You make good recordings, but that’s not what you’re about. So it’s perfect that this is what you did this time, the way you made this recording.

KP: I think it was essential. The man at the label we work with, Anti-, he heard this record and said nothing but positive things like a good company man should. Despite that, he let slip that he’s been silently wondering – I guess you can’t really wonder any differently – but he’s been silently wondering when we’re going to start fleshing arrangements out with other instruments or other band members, or other musical ideas.

JR: She doesn’t [like that].

KP: You didn’t look at her face when I said it. She doesn’t think highly of it.

JR: I wanted her to extrapolate…

KP: So this is the point. Andy says that he apparently hadn’t allowed, in his mind, the idea that there was actual real growth to be made. And I don’t blame him because we made two records that, other than the songs themselves, don’t exhibit too much growth. When you put those albums back to back, they sound like one long album. But this album sounds different. In the minutia it sounds different, but anybody paying attention to it close enough realizes we’re doing a very different thing.

I think that Andy realized he had the wrong impulse, which was that he’d heard two albums that sounded the same and thought the way that we were going to change that at some point is to start changing [instruments] and was corrected when we delivered an album that changed approaches and succeeded. So I’m happy with that. And also this album, while I like what it is and I think that it’ll do well as what it is, I don’t think the story is complete. I think we just scratched the surface on what Joey and I are able to bring out of each other as musicians in that context. I think we found a new way to play with the dog, so there’s still some playing to do.

JR: Is that an expression?

KP: Playing with the dog? No, it’s a metaphor that I just came up with.

JR: That’s an original, right there.

KP: Are you trying to figure out if there was some extra meaning there? No, it was a pretty straight metaphor.

JR: But is “playing with the dog” something that people generally try to find new ways to do? Like skin a cat would be a similar thing that’s more of an accepted idiom. Like we found a new way to skin a cat, rather than play with a dog. [laughs]

KP: No, but the mental image...

JR: How many ways can you play with a dog?

KP: Well, for three years we’ve just been throwing the Frisbee at the dog.

JR: And now we have a tug-of-war coming? I like it.

KP: It’s an infinitely more positive image than the two of us holding a cat and trying to figure out how to skin it.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Luckily, folk duo The Milk Carton Kids are happier than they sound
(by Bernard Zuel)
How are you, Joey Ryan? "Better than it would seem from the music we have been writing."

Indeed. Sad and sombre might be one way to describe the songs of Ryan and his partner Kenneth Pentangle, in the Milk Carton Kids. Lacking in teen bounce, club beats or sugary zest, would also cover it as you listen to the entwined voices, nimbly-fingered acoustic guitars and old style (or timeless) folk sounds.

Fair to say there's a marked absence of any potential duet with Meghan Trainor?, then?

"No," says the dry-as-dust Ryan. "We seem to be [pause] not at all about that bass."

Quite. Not least because they don't have a bass player, or a bass, in their set-up, which is two voices, two finger-picked acoustic guitars and, well, that's it. Think of it as sadder than the Everly Brothers but not as sad as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings; more religious than Simon and Garfunkel but not as religious as the Louvin Brothers; more political than Emmylou and Gram but not as political as Peter, Paul and Mary.

In a weird way, then, the most striking aspect of the new album, Monterey, on first listens may be realising what it isn't. After five years and three albums, some may had been preparing for this being the album where they would beef up the sound or lighten the mood. But if anything it's even more bare, if that's possible.

"It definitely did not feel time for us creatively to say we had done everything we could do with two voices and two guitars," says Ryan. "I think we felt that there was still ever smaller spaces to climb into, we were still finding more nooks and crannies within the framework.

"But to be honest, part of it was that we didn't feel we have made a great record yet. We feel like we have put on a lot of great shows but we did not feel that way about our albums so far."

It's true that live they can be completely entrancing when singing and equally completely hilarious between songs – especially Ryan – creating a compelling intimacy overall.

"I think that's right. You are describing it as intimacy, to me and Ken we think of it as immediacy," Ryan says. "Our instructions to ourselves making this record by ourselves, without an engineer or producer, was just to make a record that sounds like us."

Enough "us" maybe so he no longer feels, as he sang on a very early MCK song, "I think I'm going to work construction, just to make something of myself"?

"I still have that longing," Ryan says. "On a daily basis. Across the street from my house they are building a gigantic house and I find it incredibly inspiring to think about quitting my current job and joining them."

Yeah, right. He probably doesn't want to know then that Emmylou Harris, who has never worked with the talentless and has championed such great talents as Patty Griffin, Ryan Adams and Lucinda Williams, described them as the band she is most excited by at the moment.

"Emmylou Harris? That, that ..." he splutters before his voice drops away. "I don't know what to say about that. I can't tell you how happy that makes me."

Hey, if it's keeps him off the building site ...
The West Australian
Milk Carton Kids sip at fame
(by Simon Collins)
The quietly intricate folk songs of Los Angeles duo the Milk Carton Kids is the antithesis of the foot-stomping hoedowns re-popularised by Mumford and Sons.

“We share a preference for nuance and subtlety,” says Joey Ryan, who eschewed a faltering solo career to try his luck with fellow LA singer- songwriter Kenneth Pattengale five years ago.

“I have gathered from the past five years that it’s not as commercially viable as the antithesis you’re referring to,” he adds with typically bone-dry wit. “But that’s OK.” Ryan is being as low-key as their close-harmony acoustic offerings, which have drawn glowing comparisons to Simon and Garfunkel, as well as the brothers Everly and Louvin.

Jack White, Emmylou Harris and Marcus Mumford are unabashed fans while Billy Bragg named The Ash and Clay as his favourite album of 2013 — the same year their second long- player earned a Grammy nomination for best folk album. Ryan jokes the Grammy nod made for a “cool three hours” but producer T Bone Burnett has told him to welcome the acclaim.

In 2011, the Milk Carton Kids released debut Prologue, plus a live album under their own names.

The 33-year-olds, who released 14 solo albums between them before joining forces, are more comfortable on stage than in the studio, according to Ryan. This partly explains why they recorded third album, Monterey, on stage at venues they were due to play each night on a recent US tour.

Ryan and Pattengale worked alone, setting up four microphones and recording equipment on stage each day to capture their restrained yet gorgeous harmonies and flatpicking.

“There was nobody there,” Ryan says. “There was nobody running the computer — no assistants, no engineer, no producer — just two of us in some beautiful rooms.” The songs were shaped by the history and charm of the venues, as well as their acoustic qualities.

One memorable makeshift studios was the Lyric Theatre, which was being renovated when the Milk Carton Kids rolled into Birmingham, Alabama.

“It was a construction site,” he says. “The stage was intact but they’d torn up the floorboards and seats. In the highest balcony they found tickets from the 1920s, 30s, 40s, which said ‘Coloureds Only’, it was a segregated theatre. There was a haunting vibe.”
Rolling Stone Australia
The Milk Carton Kids ? Monterey
(by Gareth Hipwell)
The third release by the Milk Carton Kids was taped live and onstage in empty halls and theatres across the U.S. Amid typically intricate finger-picking patterns and vocal shadowing, clues to the recording process abound: the body of a vintage Gibson J-45 or Martin 0-15 brushed with nail or knuckle, solo breaks that might surprise in a studio recording. While poeticism and fidelity to form supplant variety here, close attention rewards. "Monterey" has the rhythm and thumbed bass-notes of a cowboy ballad to match its concern for the road and the North Star, while "High Hopes" rambles at a decent clip and "Shooting Shadows" swells with remembrance. A beautifully realised folk recording. - See more at:
NPR First Listen
First Listen: The Milk Carton Kids, 'Monterey'
(by Stephen Thompson)
The Milk Carton Kids' Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan craft soft, timeless ballads in close harmony — and, as such, recall the reverently beautiful likes of Simon & Garfunkel. But, while the duo's first three albums are gorgeous throughout, the studio can have a way of making music just a little too impeccable. Put The Milk Carton Kids on stage instead, and the music picks up an extra layer of warmth, aided in no small part by the pair's hilariously deadpan banter.

The new Monterey contains none of that Smothers Brothers-esque between-song conversation — there's a live DVD for that, as well as a charming Tiny Desk Concert — but The Milk Carton Kids did make the wise decision to record it in real time, without an audience, on some of Ryan and Pattengale's favorite theater stages. As a result, the album feels lived-in, airy, comfortable, human.

Monterey also does a nice job mixing up The Milk Carton Kids' sound a little bit, as tender ballads ("Asheville Skies," "Getaway," the title track) and mournful political ruminations ("Freedom") give way to the occasional infusion of sprightlier material as the album progresses. "High Hopes" has the wry friskiness of a set-closer, for example, while the brightly sparkling two-minute romp "The City Of Our Lady" injects a frenetic little jolt into the proceedings later on. It all adds up to a sound that feels lighter and looser than ever, sacrificing the tiniest bit of pristineness for a much-needed note of softly scuffed-up grace.
Monterey by The Milk Carton Kids
(by Neil Pace)
Have you noticed that there are boatloads of reviews that seem to be constantly peppered with high-reaching phrases like “They’re the new this” or “They’re the next that”. It’s what reviewers, critics (and, to be frank, artists’ own promotional teams) do all the time when they run short of ways to describe how an artist sounds. I can say this with no small element of authority, because I do it all the time.

The Milk Carton Kids are a gift in this respect. Two American boys with a penchant for slow, thoughtful, acoustic numbers laden with faultless vocal harmonies. It’s just an absolute given that they’ll be compared with (you’re ahead of me here I can tell) Simon and Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers until the cowboys bring their charges mooing home.

The new album by Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, the follow-up to The Ash and Clay, which received a Grammy nomination for Best Folk Album two years ago (they lost out to Guy Clark, just in case you were wondering) does have some similarities to the works of that brace of arguing duos. And while we’re on the subject of lazy comparisons please feel free to throw Steve Earle in his more acoustic moods into the mix, as the guitar playing here has much of the sweet purity of Earle’s on the likes of ‘My Old Friend The Blues’, although even with repeated listens there’s nothing with the sheer downright hummable nature of Earle’s (or Phil and Don’s or Paul and Art’s) best.

Beautiful, calming, technically brilliant, but (and it’s quite a big but) there’s very little here that you’ll be whistling when you’re laying bricks or emptying bedpans tomorrow. In that respect (here’s another lazy comparison for you) The Milk Carton Kids are a little bit like Bon Iver. I appreciate that I’m in a reasonably small minority here, but Bon Iver’s work makes me feel relaxed and rested, however by the time it’s over I can’t remember a single melody. It’s almost as if there’s an element in here that’s so pure that it wipes your memory.

Title track ‘Monterey’ washes soothingly over tired bones to remind you of the music of a different era, and ‘The City of Our Lady’ lands somewhere in the Bermuda triangle between Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’, a slowed down version of Flatt & Scruggs’ ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown’ and Paul McCartney’s peerless finger-picking on The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’. And on ‘Sing, Sparrow, Sing’ we have possibly the closest we come to a standout track. Ironically it’s also not typical of the album as a whole and, disappointingly (because I could listen to it all week long) it’s less than two minutes long.

This is a gloriously bitter-sweet album. In many ways my review sounds over-critical, and it’s not meant to, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. Having said all that, with a decent smattering of more commercial melodies and memorable hooks these two might just be capable of ruling the world.
The Rock Club UK
The Rock Club UK
(by Keith Smith)
In the admittedly small amount I have read about The Milk Carton Kids, the names of Simon & Garfunkel and even the Everly Brothers always pop up as comparisons and influences, and after listening to Monterey, their third album, this is with very good reason. I would also suggest throwing in there, The Lost Brothers and even Mark Kozelek when he’s in his Spanish influenced nylon string acoustic mood.

The Milk Carton Kids are Californians Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, and they use two instruments each : their acoustic guitars, and their voices. And what voices…think Jose Gonzalez for tone and clarity.

Each song on the 11 track 37 minutes album follows pretty much the same format - amazing finger picked guitars, and stunning 2 part harmonies creating a truly modern take on American folk with its roots firmly planted in the past.

The album was written and recorded whilst touring across the States, on stages in concert halls, churches and theatres rather than actual studios. Not surprisingly, thematically the album is either based on an actual or a theoretical road trip across the country, with song titles like Getaway, title track Monterey and Freedom giving the game away.

It’s a difficult task to point out any obvious highlights of the album, as the album as a whole and in its entirety is a highlight, and should be listened to as thus. The pace of the album remains constant throughout, although penultimate track Sing, Sparrow, Sing drops a little, and this is also the only track with only one voice on it, acting as almost a nursery rhyme pallet cleanser for the stunning final track Poison Tree when the harmonies are back in unison.

It’s also difficult to come up with anything critical about this release. I’m currently writing this on a beautiful sunny day, looking out into the garden with the birds singing and the music is perfectly sound tracking the sense of peace and tranquility. It’s that good.

I’m so glad to finally have The Milk Carton Kids in my life. Take a listen, and I’m sure you will too.
Wall Street Journal
The Milk Carton Kids Seek Transcendence on ?Secrets of the Stars?
(by Eric R. Danton)
The Milk Carton Kids took a long time to write “Secrets of the Stars,” which is fitting: the song from the Los Angeles folk duo’s upcoming album is about moments in life that are difficult to put into words. The track premieres today on Speakeasy.

It’s a quiet song with restrained fingerpicked acoustic guitars that leave plenty of room for the intertwining vocal harmonies of singers Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale. Inspired by the novelist Haruki Murakami, Ryan started writing the tune, which he says “took months and was subject to significant revision along the way by both band members,” with additional musical input from singer Sarah Jarosz.

“‘Secrets of the Stars’ deals with those transcendent moments when, even if few and far between, we seem to experience something other than a merely physical existence,” Ryan says. “The song references love, dreams and near-death experiences and uses the imagery and language of various of Haruki Murakami’s novels.”

“Secrets of the Stars” comes from “Monterey,” the band’s third studio album. It’s the follow-up to their breakthrough 2013 release “The Ash & Clay,” which won them acclaim from the likes of Billy Bragg and “A Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor, who invited them to appear on the program three times that year. “The Ash & Clay” was also nominated for a Grammy in the folk album category, and the Milk Carton Kids won the award for duo/group of the year at the 2014 Americana Music Awards.

Ryan and Pattengale wrote and recorded “Monterey” on tour, including an overnight session spent alone in the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville. The album is due May 19 on Anti- Records. What do you think of “Secrets of the Stars?” Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Rolling Stone
Milk Carton Kids Take Harmonies to the Highway with 'Monterey' Read m...
(by Andrew Leahey)
For years, the Milk Carton Kids would go into the recording studio with the same goal in mind: to recreate the feel (and fretwork) of their club shows in a place that looked, sounded and felt nothing like a club.

Then, during a cross-country tour last spring, the guys broke their own tradition. Why not ditch the studio and start recording in actual venues instead?

"We'd get to town, go into the venue around noon, stand on the stage in the same position as we would normally stand in a show — although there was no one there — and just run tape," remembers Joey Ryan, who formed the folk duo with Kenneth Pattengale in 2011. "We wanted to capture something about our live performances that we'd never been able to capture in the studio before."

The tour was long, giving the Milk Carton Kids plenty of time to whittle their new songs into shape. There was no timeline to follow. No budget to worry about. No deadline, even. Ryan and Pattengale were used to recording entire albums in four days, but this time, the pressure was off.

"Every single time we recorded a new song, there was no indication that any particular take was gonna be the one that made it onto the record," Ryan explains. "That was liberating. The playing and the singing is much more fearless, especially Kenneth's guitar playing. He plays the way he normally does during our shows."

Months later, the guys sifted through the songs they'd tracked on the road, cherry-picking five or six of the best performances. Those songs fill half of the band's self-produced new album, Monterey. The remaining half was recorded at the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville (where Patty Griffin recorded the Grammy-winning Downtown Church in 2009), with the bandmates standing on the altar and playing to a room full of empty church pews.

"It was just the two of us," says Ryan. "The first night in the church, we set up the mics and got the computer running, then played the first song for half an hour. We felt like we got a couple of really good takes. Then, when we went back to listen to it, we realized that ProTools had crashed two minutes in. We didn't even have anybody manning the computer. So instead, we just turned the laptop around to face us, so we could look over and see it was still working between takes."

The church sessions took a week. When they were finished, the Milk Carton Kids set up four speakers and played back all the songs they'd tracked. It was the ultimate surround sound experience, with each speaker focusing on a single bandmate's voice or acoustic guitar. What was even better, though, was the way the music echoed throughout the Downtown Presbyterian Church, whose 167-year old sanctuary doubled as a natural reverb chamber.

"We used some room mics to capture the sound of the room as the album played," says Ryan. "There's no artificial reverb on the record, just the sound of the record playing inside the church. Beyond being the most beautiful reverb sound that we had available to us, it gives the entire record — which was recorded in five or six different places — a consistency of tone."

The result is an album that captures a band literally on the run, with songs written and recorded in theaters, churches, buses, rock clubs and listening rooms across the country. That sense of movement fills the title track, whose sighing harmonies and chromatic guitar runs take a page from Les Paul's catalog of duets with Mary Ford. "Monterey, how can I say I'll always stay, then slip away?" goes the refrain, conjuring up images of landscapes that loom on the horizon and eventually recede in the rearview mirror, replaced by a long, rolling scroll of blacktop. (Listen to the song's premiere below.)

"Kenneth wrote that song alone, back when we first met," Ryan recalls. "I remember hearing it back then. There were a couple of weeks where we'd go to each other's houses all the time, playing songs for each other, and that was one of the very first songs we tried to sing together. It was difficult for us, though, and we just couldn't perform it. We couldn't find the right ranges for our voices. So maybe we had to grow into the song, as a band, over the next four or five years."
Exclusive: The Milk Carton Kids Announce New Album, 'Monterey'
(by Harley Brown)
Ever-charming anti-folk revivalists the Milk Carton Kids have revealed their third album, Monterey, the follow-up to 2013's Grammy-nominated The Ash & Clay. It's out May 19 via Anti-, and to usher in the good news, Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan have recorded an adorably (intentionally) awkward announcement video, which you can watch below. The two remain deadpan as the conversation veers inexplicably from pondering whether late-night and early-morning records exist to the best monkey videos on YouTube.

Recorded in Nashville's Downtown Presbyterian Church during both daylight and nighttime hours, Monterey is a finger-picked meander down folk music's long and rangy path, with the odd couple's exquisitely Simon and Garfunkel-reminiscent harmonies over everything.

Of the new LP, Ryan tells Billboard, "The stage and the studio are intensely different places to perform music. We have always preferred the stage, and have vastly more experience there. Making this album on stages, even in the absence of an audience, caused us to perform for the record -- spontaneous and unencumbered -- the way we do each night at our shows."
Los Angeles Times
Album Premiere: Milk Carton Kids' The Ash & Clay
(by August Brown)
The L.A. duo The Milk Carton Kids have the interesting distinction of being just as famous for their live banter as for their music.

It's no accident that Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan's act has risen in the ranks of Largo's folk-comedy crossover: part Smothers Brothers cheeky repartee, part Conchords-ian self-awareness about singer-songwriterdom, the time between their songs at shows can be just as compelling as the music.

But the music is even better. On their debut album "The Ash & Clay" for Anti-, the duo makes four sounds - two voices, two acoustic guitars - sound as big as a prairie. It's modern roots music sung in close harmony with exquisite guitar work, but unselfconscious about any old-timey signifiers. (Listen to the full album below.)

In a time when Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers can sail onto the top-40 with similar instrumentation and imagery, Milk Carton Kids hit the same emotional highs with much less pomp. There's no radio-baiting kick drum stomps or angry howls at old lovers, but there is a beating heart and absolute mastery of their craft here.

And if you catch them live at their Largo showcase with Ed Helms, Tom Brosseau, Joe Henry and many other guests on March 27, you'll get some witheringly funny rapport as well.
Mix Magazine
Milk Carton Kids, 'The Ash & Clay'
(by Barbara Schultz)
The latest release from the Milk Carton Kids, The Ash & Clay (Anti) evokes nothing so much as stripped-down Simon and Garfunkel: the sweetness and beauty of two voices singing in harmony, the delicate interplay of two acoustic guitars, and the beauty and strength of great songwriting. This record was made by a small but mighty crew of three: the Kids -Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale- and engineer Ryan Freeland (, who recorded, mixed and mastered the album in his personal studio, Stampede Origin (West L.A.).

"When they rehearse, they stand close together, facing each other and looking at each other, so we recorded that way. That's how they're most comfortable, so I put the mics as close together as possible and worked with it," Freeland says.

Five mics did the trick during the week-long session: "I had two M 49s on their vocals, two U 67s on their acoustics, and an AEA A440 active ribbon in between them; that caught a little bit of a mono version of everything. I didn't use any compression or anything else; I wanted the mics to be the vibe-y part of it."

"One song, 'Promised Land,' sounds different from the rest because Kenneth had just finished writing it and was sitting on the floor in the corner, away from the mics, rehearsing." Freeland continues. "After he played through it Kenneth came in and said, 'Can we listen to that?' And I was like, 'Oh, what? You were playing a take in there?' Thankfully I'm always in Record. That first pass became the master take on the album."
Performer Magazine
The Milk Carton Kids - The Ash & Clay
(by Vanessa Bennett)
"Gorgeous folk music driven by explosive vocals and powerful compositions"

The Milk Carton Kids are reviving folk music. With a contemporary twist on the genre and the incorporation of simple, yet enticing harmonies, the pair has crafted a sound that is not only beautiful but also seamlessly constructed. Their latest album, The Ash & Clay, is a further example of the duo's ability to create songs that are both intimate and powerful, bittersweet and inspiring.

There is a sense of nostalgia on this latest endeavor, as darker images are set to stirring melodies. The ballad "Snake Eyes" presents a complex duality between memory and forward movement while "The Jewel of June" is acceptance and introspection. The soft harmonies of twin acoustic guitars and delicate vocals of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan fuse together into something utterly captivating. As each track progresses, there is a need to listen intently to everything the pair does.

The folk music "revival" has gained substantial momentum as of late, but The Milk Carton Kids take it another level. Their unabashed honesty and naturally flowing sound is hypnotizing. The have an exceptional knack for crafting heartbreaking songs and skillful compositions that serves them well on The Ash & Clay.
Paste Magazine
12 California Acts You Should Listen To Now
(by Phillip Cosores)
In the past few years, a list of rising California artists could have included Girls, Local Natives, Flying Lotus, Tyler, the Creator, Ty Segall, Best Coast, Warpaint, and Foster the People. Even two of last year's most celebrated artists, Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean, both rose out of the state's crowded and competitive music scene, further proof that both success in the state and success nationally can be achieved simultaneously, a distinct difference from most of the country that requires a steady, organic growth in their artists for outsiders to take notice.

This can be both good and bad, as California is also home to much of the commercial pop often tied to the state's huge film and television industries, resulting in lasting artists breaking through as often as one-hit wonders. Informing them all is the state's incomparable landscape of forests, mountains, deserts and beaches, which are reflected in the equally varying sounds that its artists deliver. The result hasn't just been quality songs or popular acts, but whole movements that have shaped modern music: the surf sounds of the '60s, the San Francisco Summer of Love, the beginning of hardcore in Hermosa Beach, the indulgence of the '80s Sunset Strip, West Coast hip hop and gangsta rap, Orange County ska, the Bay Area's freak folk movements and the now-vibrant garage scene. We also are responsible for Nu Metal, and for that we are so, so sorry.

The following 12 acts (listed alphabetically) stand out in California at the start of 2013, each with debut albums just released or expected this year. See all the artists in our 50 States Project so far and email suggestions for your state to

9. The Milk Carton Kids
Hometown: Eagle Rock
Band Members:Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan
Upcoming Release: The Ash & Clay due on 3/26 on Anti-

The intellectual folk of The Milk Carton Kids would be at home on dusty roads in the California agricultural valleys, or the small forest towns of the northern state, making their emergence from the Eagle Rock neighborhood in Los Angeles unexpected. It's in the intellectual sophistication of their songs that their home environment can be observed, making The Milk Carton Kids an option for purists unsatisfied with some of the pop tendencies seeping in to the genre. Live, The Milk Carton Kids add an element of comedy that rounds out the experience, earning them a growing reputation that has resulted in signing with Anti- and having songs featured in the recent film, The Promised Land.
Huffington Post
The Power of Music: Holiness Hitches a Ride
(by Kristin M. Swenson, Ph.D.)
I feel bad for the psalms, that collection in the Bible called psalmoi, "songs." Their music, the tunes supposed to accompany them, has been lost to us. Melodies such as "The Lilies," "Doe of the Morning" and "Do Not Destroy," denoted in the introduction of individual psalms, are mysteries to us. We have no idea how they go -- what key, what tempo, how loud or soft. Are they "happy" or "sad," lilting or ponderous? We don't even know how to translate some of the terms that likely refer to original tunes. Mahalath, for example, or gittith.

I got thinking about this because yesterday I had the rare opportunity to feast like some drunken bacchanal on live music performed by five amazing singer-songwriters. This was not a music festival but simply a day that coincidentally offered a house concert on a country afternoon and then a show in the evening at the renovated Jefferson Theater downtown. En route to each, on winding roads decorated by horses and green spring yielding to summer, the iPod on shuffle filled the car until finally I had to call "sensory overload." We let final notes float out the window somewhere between Palmyra and Charlottesville.

Music is ultimately indefinable, but isn't that the way? After all, words endure but a tune exists only while it can persuade invisible waves of sound to dance around our heads just so. My favorite music is tunes with words -- songs. This is poetry taken to a whole new level. Then again, that's not quite right because, unlike pure poetry, the lyrics of songs are an empty carapace without the tune that animates them.

They may be interesting, they may be stirring, but lyrics mean best when strung onto notes by a living, breathing singer, who hangs them like ornaments on simple respiration in a dazzlingly complex biological process. Add instruments, and wow, no limits. A song is radically impermanent. Yet it can be recreated over and over again when a set of lyrics meets its key: a tune to pump its heart, plied by those uncommon magicians, the alchemists of sound.

I suspect that each of the musicians who shifted the air of my yesterday would cringe to be called by such lofty names. But they know what they do. Danny Schmidt, with his quiet ways, has composed some of the most courageously thoughtful songs and performs them with grace. Carrie Elkin will blow you away. That girl's got chops as big as her heart and she puts all of both into each song she sings... then with the applause, shrugs and grins like she just dropped a cake. The Milk Carton Kids (Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan) transport with heartbreaking understatement. Extraordinary musical facility, both vocal and on vintage guitars, meets humor, smarts and style on an otherwise ordinary stage. Finally (just because she was the last act we heard), Dar Williams. "The Mercy of the Fallen," need I say more? OK, then "The Christians and the Pagans."

So, I feel bad for the biblical psalms. In Hebrew, their home language, the collection is called tehillim -- "songs of praise." This ups the mystery ante. After all, the book is dominated by complaint. Evocative expressions of pain and suffering -- all kinds and on all levels are far more common than happier sentiments. Yet somehow, all together, they are "Praise Songs." And how poignant that the book's Greek title, Psalms, comes from a word that may refer as much to a stringed instrument as the "songs" it accompanied.

Now, you may call me sacrilegious, but as much as I wish we knew the full music of those biblical texts, I do not believe that they alone possess sanctifying power. I do not believe that the sacred is bound by text or that the divine is circumscribed by religion. Holiness happens in the oddest places and may be carried along by something as profound, as singular and transitory, as a song.
New York Times
Seeking Comfort, and Innovation, at South by Southwest
(by Ben Sisario)
AUSTIN, Tex. — Maybe it’s just because it conforms to some Northerner’s stereotype I have about Texas, but at South by Southwest almost anything Americana-flavored — country, folk, alt-country, cowpunk — sounds great to me. You encounter it even before you show your badge to anyone, in the Waylon Jennings on the van radio from the airport or the twangy din from the musicians who set up along Sixth Street, the chaotic festival thoroughfare here. And during the festival itself, it can be a comfort from some of the fly-by-night indie trends as well as a source of innovation.

On Saturday, the last day of SXSW, I caught some great hip-hop (the Roots) and at least a couple of variations on ’90s indie guitar rock: super loud (Sugar, the Men) and spooky-dreamy (Blouse, Dive). But the strongest impression was made by the folkier stuff. The Milk Carton Kids are the duo of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, who play a sweetly dazzling variation on close-harmony vocals, part Simon and Garfunkel and part Everly Brothers, with occasional acoustic prestidigitation. The Lumineers, as Jon Pareles noted, bring their earnest group chants and woeful melodies out into the crowd; I was also impressed at how the band was able to make this sepia-toned music in a church without seeming too overshadowed by the example of Arcade Fire.

After that taste of the sacred I went for the intoxicatingly profane: the Waco Brothers with Paul Burch at the showcase for Bloodshot Records, a Chicago label that finds the common ground between the dirtiest country and the rawest rock. They nailed it with Bo Diddley beats and some shouted vocals that could have come from the mouth of Joe Strummer. Jon Langford, the Waco Brothers’ leader, embodies the musical connection here: he’s one of the founders of the Mekons, one of the primary British punk bands of the 1970s, who for years now has been indulging his love for country. He’s also wickedly entertaining between songs. “We’re going to do a song called ‘Cannonball,’ ” he said. “We’ve only played it once before, and it was terrible.” But of course it rocked.
No Depression
"I found something a little more permanent" - An interview with the Mi...
(by Kim Ruehl)
There's one kind of artistic impulse which would look out over an empty field and imagine the architecture and vitality which could dot that landscape. There's another artistic impulse altogether which might look at that empty field and imagine how beautiful it might be if - rather than filled with buildings - it's filled instead with flowers and laughter and high-sky evenings watching the stars.

It's hard to criticize the former. After all, we all need places to live, roads, schools, et cetera. But we also need fields. I'm not talking about infrastructure, though, of course. I'm talking about music.

This morning, I listened to the new album from Tori Amos - one of those old-fashioned-style recordings where she brought in a whole string section (or maybe even two). She has her kid and her niece singing on it (not in childish voices, either - these kids have chops), and there's a compelling love story which is told over the course of the entire album. It's poetic and provocative. It's thickly arranged, artfully orchestrated. There's a whole lot going on. Amos - a lifelong prodigy - could have pulled the whole thing off on her own, at a piano, but it's all for the better with her backed by a chamber orchestra. The musical equivalent of a small town erected in a giant field. Beautifully arranged. Sustainable, even.

Conversely, this afternoon, I finally finished transcribing an interview I conducted about a month ago with the Milk Carton Kids (it's been a busy summer). Revisiting their work, I've been struck by how fiercely it tugs at the same chords as Tori Amos's new album, but by going in a distinctly opposite direction. Figuratively speaking, they leave the field alone.

As I'm sure you've noticed, we've come to a moment in recorded music history where artists have the impulse to record more layers to their songs than they might be capable of creating in a live setting, simply because digital recording makes that possible. Many make incredible art this way. (James Vincent McMorrow comes to mind - his recent release was recorded in total solitude, but is full of imaginative multi-layered arrangments. Here's Hearth Music's review.) Many more simply relax into the too many options they're not sure what to do with - like stacking up mattresses on top of a pea. Often, this just leaves me, at least, feeling too far from the ground, still annoyed by the pea. Seems that happens more often than not with studio layering. So, I find it refreshing that not only have Kenneth and Joey opted to steer clear of that temptation, but they've done so in a way which is neither gimmicky nor boring.

It helps they're both remarkably talented songwriters and instrumentalists in their own right. It also helps they seem to be fiercely committed to this way of making music. As you can read in my interview with them below, they see the music they make as an artful challenge. Like making something out of what's already there, rather than turning what you see into something else. (Have I pulled this empty field analogy far enough?)

In short, it's excellent music, too much overlooked this year as far as I'm concerned, and you should make a point of listening to it immediately.

Now, I'll let you read the interview:

Kim Ruehl - We'll start with the basics. You've both been solo singer-songwriters in your own right. What brought you together?

Joey Ryan - Kenneth was onstage playing a song …from the perspective of a dog. I walked into the back of the room and I was just blown away by it. I went up to him afterwards and introduced myself, said something complimentary about the song. A couple weeks later we ran into each other again. He abdicated that I should come over to his studio and “hear him play guitar on my songs.”

Kenneth Pattengale – I never said that.

JR – You did. He doesn’t remember, but he said that. Although I thought it was very forward – which it was – I took him up on it. We started going through each other’s catalogs and learning each other’s songs that we had through our respective solo careers, which we were both pursuing at the time. We started playing and arranging them for fun, for what would become the duo, with our two guitars and harmonies with our two voices. I actually thought it sounded terrible until he played back a recording of it, at which point I realized it was really special.

[There was] this complete sound, even though it was very minimalist. I felt maybe it was something we’d both been chasing down not ineffectively in the studio with layers and such… but then it progressed from there. When it really hit a stride was when we started writing together and allowing each other into our writing processes, which we’d never done before with any artist. We really allowed each other to push ourselves. That’s when we made the transition from a casually-playing-together duo to being a band. We decided to shelve our solo careers and really have a go at it.

KP – The real interesting part to me was what was distilled out of scaling back to those four elements which were wild ideas Joe and I had for our own music. Having our hands tied in such a way forced us to be… not necessarily more creative, but maybe more directed in our positions musically and lyrically. There was something about stripping the fluff away and getting back to the basics. In the end I think it created something that has more imagination and more life.

JR - That’s the short answer. [laughs]

When you went from writing by yourself – a very solitary thing – to writing with someone else, was that a scary thing for you? How did you come to that decision to write together?

KP – It seemed to happen very naturally. We spent a long time on the road performing together and rehashing our [separate] catalogs. The good thing about that was that, we spent so much time doing that, we wound up learning each other’s boundaries musically and the way a song functions. We spent a lot of time up front learning what the rules were. When we decided to sit down and put some common work in front of us, the boundaries had been very clearly established. That’s not to say we haven’t had a healthy push-and-pull [relationship in] editing each other’s work along the way. But, I think spending so much time building each other’s trust was key in the process.

JR – The marked difference between this collaboration – which made me want to make it a permanent thing – as opposed to another songwriting collaboration I might want to push myself into, was that we were able to preserve that solitary process you’ve described, which is what songwriting had always been. To be able to preserve that and at the same time share it with someone you really trust enough to let into that space, to let them have a say about what goes on in that space, to me that was something really new and exciting.

KP – Songwriting is a fairly schizophrenic process, I think. Having your best friend around to do it with makes it a little bit of a less-lonely schizophrenia.

Are you still doing songwriting separately?

JR – No.

Do you think you’ll go back to that?

JR – Hopefully not.

KP – I guess if this whole thing fails.

JR – If I do another solo record, it means something went wrong.

KP – I don’t think this project necessarily precludes any solo stuff in the future. We’re having so much fun and keeping so busy, I think Joe and I have a number of records on our horizon [together] before we do anything else. I know, during my downtime, I hear the same things in my head that I heard five years ago that make me want to lock myself in a room for two weeks and explore all that. But, I think until we see this through and push to see how far we can take this thing, I would guess neither of us will stray from this path.

You’ve released your records for free online, which makes me think of a lot of frequent discussion on No Depression and elsewhere about how that sort of thing could kill the industry and keep artists from making a living. What do you think about that?

KP – I guess I understand that point of view. I think we have a distinctly different one. We give our music away, but we also sell our music. People have the option of buying our music, and they’re actually doing so. The free element is a way to let people who enjoy what we do, and want to call it their own, have a guilt-free way to share it with their friends. There’s something about what a live show is that’s entirely based on people coming to really appreciate what we do. There’s no better way for the music to be heard than to have these passionate people sharing it with each other and sharing with their friends. I don’t think it’s giving away the whole package for free. It’s just another way for us to share our music with people. Anything to add Joe?

JR – Yeah I have a lot to say on the topic, but that’s a whole other discussion. We could do an hour on that. I don’t think it’ll contribute to any doomsday scenario any more than anything else that’s taking place. It doesn't seem like doomsday to us. It feels like a perfect opportunity and a perfect time to be doing what we’re doing in a place where we’re able to share it with people, remove any obstacle to getting our music, and just make it really easy to get it, share it, and do what you want with it. To me it’s more of an exciting time to be operating as an independent musician the way we are.

I want to go back to what you were saying before about the music being stripped down… I was thinking about how it’s easy for solo and duo artists these days to add layers on top of themselves to fill the song out. But there aren’t a lot of people these days just doing this very basic thing – two voices, two guitars – aside from maybe Gillian and Dave. That simplicity is something that used to be much more prevalent in recording folk music and singer-songwriters. I just wanted to get your thoughts on that.

JR – It’s been a blessing and a curse to me in the past to have such freedom and infinite possibilities to recording as a solo artist. There’s a tendency to get carried awy with the amount of options you have – instruments, vocally, and the number of tracks you have. I started to get carried away. Some people are making really beautiful, effective music that way. But in tying our hands a little bit, as Kenneth said, it makes you get carried away in a different direction. Other than adding and adding and adding, it makes you refine and refine and refine. To see how much we can do with a limited number of elements has been a more interesting rabbit hole to go down. We'll see if we can make this a more tension-filled section here, or a more fitting guitar part here. Chasing every choice down that path instead of adding more and more on, has been a much more rewarding experience for me.

KP – Additionally, there’s a real great economy to the whole thing, which is in the spirit of Joe and I spending so much time on the road and playing for audiences, there’s a benefit to us creating the full arc of our music in that space. Then we can get on a stage in any town in any part of the country and recreate a reasonable facsimile of what people have been listening to, if they’ve fallen in love with the album. Every night we get to go and perform the whole thing – 100 percent of it. There’s something nice about shifting the focus toward that for us. A lot of time in the studio you create a beautiful musical accompaniment that you can’t go and recreate on a stage. That has to be at least a bit of a let-down for the audience. … You mentioned Gill and Dave in the question. Being a big fan of them myself, that is one of the wonderful things about their show - the delight I’ve had listening to their records then going to see the show and realizing they have everything there that they used to make the music I fell in love with.

Back to your childhood. [laughs] What was the first song you remember making an impression on you?

KP – Oh boy. Joey, you want to go and I’ll think about mine?

JR – It depends how far back you go. The first song I ever learned to play – which influenced me to pick up the guitar regularly throughout the years – was “House of the Rising Sun.” It’s sort of the ideal first song to learn on the guitar and it stuck with me for that reason. It’s got every chord, almost. If you learn that song, you’re pretty much set for folk music.

KP - Really? Your answer is “House of the Rising Sun”? Geez. We’ve got to re-evaluate this thing.

JR – Well, it’s had the most lasting impact on me because it was what taught me how to play the guitar. My dad taught it to me as his way of teaching me how to play the guitar. Surely, musically, I’d come up with a different answer, but I’ve got to think about that.

KP – Okay. Well, for me, my childhood was filled with, one, learning how to play classical music. I studied classical cello from age four. But also I think having an older brother and coming of age in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, most of my elementary school years were spent listening to Guns N’ Roses and Metallica and Alice in Chains, all of that stuff. I think at the end of that period, it finished off with Greenday and the Counting Crows of the world...

JR - You give me shit for saying “House of the Rising Sun” and then you say Greenday?

KP - I don’t think they really had an effect on me musically so much as copping to the fact that that’s what I enjoyed. I was also using it to differentiate… something changed in the way I consumed music. I went through a big phase of getting obsessed with singular records. It started with Duke Ellington and Count Basie records. I spent a great amount of time listening to big band jazz. I didn’t revisit any of the stuff I listened to earlier in life. Then there were various phases of specific people. There was a Gillian and Dave phase, a Tom Waits phase, a big Joe Henry phase. I think I would latch onto these singular pieces of music or singular artists and get obsessed with them. That was a musical consumption that really started to inform what I did with music. It focused the idea that I could do that myself – when I started to get obsessed with artists, particularly songwriters.

JR – I’m going to go back and revise my answer. Every Sunday my parents would make breakfast and my dad would play Blood on the Tracks, and my mom would play whichever is the Dolly Parton record that had “Jolene” on it. Those are the records which, most strongly, bring me back to a particular place and time in childhood, or in any time of my life. To eating French Toast as an eight year-old.

KP - That is a way cooler answer.

The Milk Carton Kids are on tour now through the end of October 2011. Check out their website for dates and videos, and for free entire album downloads to share with your friends. (After, of course, you purchase a copy for yourself.)
Americana UK
(by Soren McGuire)
About six weeks ago, news about a new acoustic duo started spreading through various music blogs. Not only had Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan aka The Milk Carton Kids made their debut album available for free on their website; unlike most other people, they weren't even asking for your email address in return. Today, more than 20.000 people have downloaded the album, and as if that wasn't enough, Prologue has also proven to be one of this year's most beautiful collections of music, easily worth the £10 you'd normally pay for songs this good. In this exclusive interview with one of the best new folk bands in the US, Joey Ryan tells Americana UK all about famous fans, being compared to Simon & Garfunkel and why he's deliberately trying to destroy the music business.

The first question is a fairly obvious one. You're giving your new album, Prologue, away for free on your website, Why are you doing that? Are you deliberately trying to destroy the entire music business from within? Are you in fact the folk-Radiohead?

You're not the first to accuse us, although maybe the first to do so sarcastically. We've never envisioned ourselves as being 'within' the music business, so if there's a sabotage here it's from an invader rather than a mole. Similarly, but employing a different metaphor, if Radiohead made waves giving their record away, we're not even in the pool—and being considered in the same sentence is flattering beyond what's appropriate. It seemed obvious to us that a new band, especially one that defines itself by its live performance, would give its recordings away for free. We're still making sense of why it's perceived as controversial. We should say here that we do sell our music as well, primarily at our concerts but also online. Those who want to show their support have the opportunity and those who want to share our music when they discover it can do so guilt-free with no hoops to jump through.

Can you tell me a bit about the history of the band? You know, the high points!

The history of the band is short. We shelved our solo careers in favor of this duo only a few months ago, so there are very few points at all, high or low. The first high point—and the origin of the band—was hearing playback of the first time we ever played together at Kenneth's house in the Eagle Rock hills. That was the moment we realized the completeness of the sound we could create with just our guitars and voices. It lead us to test the waters with a few concerts as the duo—as yet unnamed—and the response was overwhelming. We're proud of a handful of things that have happened since then which can be considered high points: we're proud of making two records in our first year, of touring North America twice in our first year, and of—for the first time—being held with some great company on the pages of publications we've long admired. The fact that NPR noticed us is validating, like some sort of fleeting eye contact with a high statesman.

The way the two of you play together is just heartbreakingly beautiful. Do you have any idea where this magic comes from?

Heartbreak tempered with beauty is the best way to experience either. It doesn't come naturally, whatever it is. While it does feel serendipitous in many ways that we've come together, it is laborious to settle on our lyrics, harmonies, arrangements, etc. We endeavor to make the most we can of a minimalist framework—hopefully instilling a density into the recordings that reveals itself on multiple listens.

What is that you both bring to this equation? Do you different musical ethics, approaches or tastes that, when combined, become this beautiful music?

We are very different as people, as touring partners, as friends—and balance each other in stark contrast. Those personality differences inflect our respective playing and singing—one being frenetic yet refined, the other stoic and simple. What we have in common, though, is that we've each become the one person that the other will let in and allow access to his musical process. From writing to performing to how to present ourselves as a band to the world. We trust each other immensely, push each other vigorously and respect each other uniquely.

I hear everything from Woody Guthrie and Simon & Garfunkel to modern bluegrass in your songs, and yet I hear something I've never heard before. What is the musical essence of The Milk Carton Kids?

This, to be honest, is one thing we've never discussed. Our influences have been told us by fans and writers more commonly than they've been waxed on from within. Luckily, we're pleased with the comparisons we get, and even more so to hear that there seems to be something original perceived in our efforts.

Joe Henry's saying some very nice things about you on the website. He's my favorite producer, and over the years, I've spoken to some of the people he's worked with, Rodney Crowell, Mary Gauthier etc, and they've all been amazed by the way he manages to make them completely comfortable in an otherwise often uncomfortable setting. I know he didn't actually produce Prologue, but please tell me about your relationship with this absolutely amazing genius?

Well he's our favorite as well—in both production and songwriting—and remains a mainstay in our tour soundtrack. More than most Joe seems capable of distilling what's being presented to its best, wrapping that with a depth and complexity that sustains infinite repetition. Joe's one of the smarter people you'll ever get to talking with—don't think for a minute that what resounds through your speakers became without a healthy dose of exploring facets that extend well beyond music. He's a master curator with a silver tongue… He exhibits this flatteringly in the foreword to our album, so aptly capturing in prose what we attempted through music that we consider it a part of the album and present it side by side with the music in every context. We have undefined plans for a musical endeavor together in the future. But it's been bandied about by both camps. Kenneth will join Joe on stage at Largo in Los Angeles in October to stand-in for a guitar voice that Marc Ribot contributed to a number of songs from Joe's forthcoming release Reverie.

You're doing quite a lot of touring in the US. Any plans to come over to the UK and Europe any time soon?

Yes, please. We each have a bit of experience there from our days as solo artists, and the common thread has been the acceptance and enthusiasm of the foreign crowds—so much so that we've often felt more at home touring your country and Europe than here in our own. We'll see you soon.
Salt Lake Magazine
Milk Carton Kids burn at Kilby Court
(by Scott Murphy)
The Milk Carton Kids followed the "build-on-your-success" template to the letter on Tuesday night when they played for about 60 or so people - the vast majority of which had seen them at The State Room earlier this year opening for Joe Purdy.

The Los Angeles-based duo played exceeding well, despite the stifling heat inside Kilby Court. The Milk Carton Kids wowed its audience with a steady diet of songs from its second release, "Prologue," which came out last month. Opening with the frenzied, upbeat, "New York," the duo of Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale blended their sibling-like harmonies seamlessly and Pattengale, who I guarantee you is the hottest, fastest picker you've never heard of, took the first of several blazing, country-inflected solos.

But rather than being just a vehicle for hot fretwork, these guys are all about the songs. And the gorgeous lyrics and melodies of "No Hammer To Hold," "Queen Jane," and "Permanent," were all bittersweet highlights that received delighted yells and applause from the crowd, which stood in sweaty silence throughout the duo's 65-minute set.

Also, for guitar players, upbeat numbers like "Girls Gather 'Round," and "Charlie," and "I Still Want A Little More," gave the lightning-fast Pattengale ample room to blaze away. All in all, despite the low-key surroundings of Kilby Court, this was a majorly impressive show. The country-fueled passion of "Undress the World," - sung by Pattengale - contrasted nicely with the folkie glory of Ryan's beautiful, "Like A Cloak." These guys have all the tools - songs, melodies and fierce guitar work. Also, they're at Logan's Art House on Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m.

And curious readers don't have to wonder what these guys sound like. Downloads of their cds are free at their website, Ryan joked Tuesday that the band developed its "policy" of giving away its music, just to have a policy. Whatever the reason, the label-free band seems fully capable of building its fan base through the old-fashioned mix of good songs and great live shows.
The Milk Carton Kids: The Sweet Spot
(by Stephen Thompson)
Since the dawn of pop music, the marketplace has been strewn with folk-inspired duos whose sweet harmonies coat listeners' nerves like calamine lotion. The arrival of a good new one may not seem like earth-shattering news — "Hey, everybody! Two kind-natured guys are singing pretty songs while brandishing acoustic guitars!" — but a lovely, soothing headache remedy is cause for celebration if you were the one nursing the headache.

The Milk Carton Kids' Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale have just released a sweet-and-easy summer stroll of an album in Prologue, suitable for sticky nights at the kitchen table or head-clearing drives in the country. From start to finish, it's a worthy peer to the best work of The Jayhawks or Chris and Thomas — or any gentle outfit that blends two male voices in a manner engineered to maximize listener comfort. (It doesn't hurt that Prologue is available for free download in its entirety on the duo's website.)

"There By Your Side" hits all the signposts of a gorgeous contemporary folk ballad — regret, devotion, longing, and the delicate interweaving of voices and acoustic guitars. But it would sound just as contemporary in any recent era: amid Simon & Garfunkel ballads, on college radio in the '90s alongside The Cages and The Williams Brothers, or right now, when agreeable beardedness has morphed into a genre unto itself in the Pacific Northwest. Ryan and Pattengale don't belong to that genre themselves, but they do float winningly alongside it. Theirs is feel-better music, and who doesn't want to feel better?
San Francisco Chronicle
Why Milk Carton Kids are giving albums away
(by Aidin Vaziri)
Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, the Los Angeles singer-songwriters and multi-instrumentalists who make up the Milk Carton Kids, are giving away digital copies of their bittersweet and beautiful album "Prologue." We spoke to Ryan about the strategy of using the music as a calling card for the duo's current 46-date headlining tour. They play Tuesday at Cafe Du Nord.

Q:You are giving your new album away. Don't musicians need to eat, too?
A: Why, do we look thin? We give away our albums, but we also sell them, and people who want to support us have been buying them. But we also want to give those people a chance to share it widely and guilt-free, which they are doing with enthusiasm - something we obviously appreciate.

Q:Is this a long-term survival strategy or are you making it up as you go along?
A: From the beginning we envisioned ourselves as a live band, hanging our hats on our performance in front an audience. Our records, for that reason, are just four microphones capturing what we do live. Of course, we're very proud of "Prologue" and love seeing people listen and make it their own, and hope that it compels them to engage in a live setting. We're going to keep doing just what we're doing.

Q:With so many people pumping out music in their bedrooms and throwing it on the Internet, what do you think makes someone click on that download link or actually put on his or her shoes to go out to a show?
A: The earnest recommendation of a trusted friend is the only thing that makes me click links and go to shows. I imagine it's the same for most people. We've been touched by how emphatic our early fans have been about sharing our music with their friends.
Radio Free Silver Lake
Interview: The Milk Carton Kids
(by Jane McCarthy)
Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan seem to be star-crossed bandmates. While both pursuing solo careers in LA, the pair met-up out of mutual appreciation, tried playing each other’s songs, and never looked back. This summer, their collaboration as The Milk Carton Kids saw the release of Prologue, an album chock-full of folk gems that are beautifully subtle and tell stories that stay with you.

On a recent evening at Edendale, I caught up with the duo to chat about their songwriting process, what “old-timey” really means, and why they’re giving their record away for free.

Jane McCarthy: When did you guys start playing together and how did that come about?

Joey Ryan: Think we met for the first time in December of 2009. Kenneth was playing a show with his band at the Hotel Café, and he played that song of his- Memoirs of an Owned Dog. I felt compelled to go up to him afterwards and tell him what a great song I thought it was. Then a couple weeks later we ran into each other and Kenneth I guess doesn’t remember this, but he said something to the effect of, “You’ve got to come over and hear me play guitar on your songs”. This was our second meeting, and I thought it was really kind of forward of him.

Kenneth Pattengale: Yeah, I’m not that brazen typically.

JR: Right. But you were.

KP: Joey claims I don’t remember. I insist that it never happened.

JR: But it did. And I thought it was particularly forward, but I went. That day when we played guitars and sang together, I actually thought it sounded horrible until Kenneth played it back (he had put up microphones so we could hear it), and I guess I wasn’t listening or something because the recording was incredible. That’s when I realized there was something happening.

JM: You guys were both pursuing solo work at the time.

KP: Very unsuccessfully.

JR: To varying degrees of un-success, I should say.

JM: But the work itself was good.

KP: Yeah, I think we both stand by that work. It never really caught on with a greater audience, certainly not the way this permutation has.

JM: What’s writing together like? It’s got to be a departure from having worked independently for quite awhile.

JR: Yeah, that’s the most profound part of it for me, because I’ve never felt comfortable allowing anyone else to poke their head in as much and to have such an influence over my writing. But I’ve always felt comfortable with allowing Kenneth that sort of access, and I think hopefully you know, it’s vice-versa. And I think that’s really brought both of our writing to new levels.

When you think it’s done, to put it to someone whose writing you respect immensely and say, “What do you think?” And to actually be open to the fact that they might want to change something about it, and then to be reassured almost every single time that what they do come up with is the right thing. It’s just really encouraging and sort of expanding. Or it has been for me as a writer, not to mention musically.

JM: Do you ever feel nervous sharing something you’ve been working on?

KP: No, not with Joe. That’s all been completely washed away.

JR: Only with everybody else…

KP: Mind you, I’m not easy. Joey’s like a battered wife at this point when it comes to songwriting.

JR: But I deserve it. You know, I deserve it.

JM: And he really loves you.

JR: Yeah, well you don’t see it when it’s just the two of us. You don’t get to see that side of him.

JM: No, but I can see the bruises under your eyes so-

JR: I have to re-touch my make-up…

JM: My favorite song on the record is actually Milk Carton Kid (followed closely by Stealing Romance). Did you write that song and then pluck the phrase from the lyrics? Or was that song written after you had the band name?

JR: The song came first. And I think it says something (or it’s meant to anyway) about coming of age. The thing that it represents in the song felt like an adequate concept to name ourselves- which is sort of like the slow vanishing of various uncomfortable or awkward or insecure aspects of youth…you know the terrible, terrible awkwardness of youth. You just kind of look back one day and you’re like, ‘Wow, I used to be a different person. And all that’s gone.’ And hopefully you have the feeling that, ‘This is better.’

KP: And not to sound too naïve, but I think the reference is sort of not necessarily that either of us has made full purchase of that idea but maybe that we’re right on that precipice of exploring ideas that have one toe in that adolescence still and another toe in seeing forward.

JM: The music is heavily rooted in the folk tradition. Is that the kind of music you’ve always gravitated toward personally? Have you always felt an affinity for folk more than any other kind of music?

JR: Basically, yes. It’s what I’ve always gravitated toward. It’s definitely the only way I’ve ever felt comfortable communicating. I’ve never been attracted to making music in any other genre. I think it’s the lyrical tradition. The permission to be highly personal and introspective and also to ask for the listener’s attention lyrically for many minutes on end, to complete an entire story where you have to have listened to the beginning in order to understand the end. And the more closely you pay attention to the lyrics, the more you’ll get out of it.

JM: There’s a richness where on the tenth listen, something new becomes apparent.

KP: Well, we had to pack sort of a small bag. A lot of my past records, and a lot of my past relationship with music has very much been about texture, and sound, and feeling- even before relying on a heavy narrative to tie things together. I’ve done a lot of experimentation with that. This is the first time in my career personally where I’ve been asked to bottle all of that in some way, and I think wrangle and contain it.

JM: So you made a conscious decision to strip down the number of elements. Did that choice feel natural? Or one day did you say, ‘We need to get some timpani in here!’ And then Joe said, ‘No! We need to keep it spare!’?

JR: There was something so rounded and full about the sound that we created on the first day when we recorded. You know, we picked up these two guitars that we both had, and they sounded like they were meant for each other. And then we sang each other’s songs, and it never felt like it needed anything more. To me, putting that limitation on it actually is liberating because you can get paralyzed by too many options. You know, especially in a studio environment nowadays. We would have unlimited time in Kenneth’s house, in his studio, to experiment and try things and you know, in the end you have a million layers, and it’s hard to tell yourself when to stop.

The-milk-carton-kids-press-photo-1 So rather than asking like ‘How many different layers or textures can we bring in?’ the rabbit hole we go down (which is way more fun) is ‘How can we make this harmony more interesting? How can I make this rhythm guitar part compliment more perfectly what Kenneth is doing with his leads and his picking?’ That’s a much more rewarding road to go down.

KP: It’s also a lot easier to go around the world and play music.

JM: Less luggage.

JR: It does feel nice to walk into any room with just two guitars and know that that’s our whole set-up and that’s all we ever rely on.

JM: When people review your performances and your records, the word “old timey” sometimes pops up. Not like old fogey or anything, but maybe it evokes a feeling of nostalgia. And I know for instance, one of Kenneth’s solo records is called Dustbowl Dreams. So I wondered if you guys feel a nostalgia for a past time or rather, maybe a longing for a past music era?

JR: I love that designation whenever we get it because I think it is meant in a positive way. And I have a great nostalgia and not on purpose, I don’t think, but I end up having a preference for either the method or something about the way records were made in a different time. I don’t know if there’s a specific time, but it does seem like in general, older records were made in a more live setting where there was a reliance more on the performance rather than on any sort of technology. That’s the way we perform. There’s not anything that really needs to happen on the record that’s not happening in the performance. So we may as well just put up some mikes and record it. And the guitars are old. They were made in the early fifties. So they sound like it.

But the songs are specifically not old-timey. We’re writing about things that are honest and present day for us in our lives. You know, we’re not in the dustbowl. It’s not the Great Depression. We’re not riding the rails. If I’ve ever been on a train it’s because there’s too much traffic between here and San Diego.

KP: The old timey stuff- it’s greatly stylized and it comes from a real strong tradition- the Bill Monroe’s, and the Ralph Stanley’s, and the bluegrass Appalachian music. We do get compared to The Louvin Brothers, and The Everly Brothers, and this great tradition of harmony singers that sing entire songs together with real close-knit harmonies, and it’s stripped down. But we’re starkly contrasted from that just in the songwriting. Neither of us has a bluegrass background or an Appalachian background. It’s music that I love but not music that I took great cues from when writing songs or playing the guitar.

JM: You’re giving Prologue away for free. How did you decide to go that route?

JR: The business model is - give your music away for free and watch the money roll in. There are some dots that need to be connected between those two things which we’re still working on.

KP: It initially comes from I think the identification that the live show is the thing that really holds Joe and I up. I guess we’re blessed with enough youth to have the stamina to go do it a whole hell of a lot. I think we sort of identified early on that if we were going to have a go as a band, we’d have to do a whole lot of touring. And what better way to get people to come, and be supportive, and listen, and engage then to give them the material first.

JM: You guys are playing at McCabe’s on Saturday, the 13th. Is that the start of a new tour?

KP: Yeah, you’ve caught us in between tours. The last three months we had the great pleasure of supporting and playing with a real wonderful fellow named Joe Purdy, and we traveled the whole U.S. and a bit of Canada with him. And we decided after that experience, what better to do than to just go out and do it all over again ourselves. So we start the tour just before that McCabe’s show. That’ll sort of mark the start of another 46 shows on our own to go and kind of test the water.
Buzzbands LA
Download: The Milk Carton Kids, 'Prologue'
(by Kevin Bronson)
Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, the double-barreled purveyors of Americana who announced their intentions as the Milk Carton Kids by releasing a live album this spring, today unveiled their first proper studio recording. It’s titled “Prologue,” an exceedingly tender and unassumingly spellbinding collection of tunes the L.A. duo — wielding just two acoustic guitars and two voices — recorded with Eric Robinson. None other than Joe Henry wrote a foreword for the album, pointing out how Pattengale and Ryan have succeeded in creating a unified “voice” for their music. Writes Henry: “They move to become a single, shadowy persona within the frame of ‘Prologue’ — like young twins cast to tag-team one demanding role in a terse-but-tender film by Elia Kazan, haunted and hounded across a lonely landscape in search of the love that might provide their collective character a fleeting taste of both redemption and self-recognition.” Yeah, and the songs are pretty too.
American Songwriter
Song Premiere: The Milk Carton Kids, "Michigan"
(by Evan Schlansky)
We’re excited about the new Americana duo The Milk Carton Kids, and we’re not the only ones. Famed artist/producer Joe Henry compares falling in love with them to the time he first discovered The Jayhawks.

In an essay that accompanies the L.A. band’s debut Prologue (out July 19 as a free download on their official site), Henry waxes poetic, saying “their songwriting and string work wind around each other like coarse briar at the base of a flag pole, confusing the mind as to how exactly it is fixed to the ground, while clearly keeping its banner raised high above the thorns, streaming if frayed.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinal
Milk Carton Kids keep it simple
(by Jon M. Gilbertson)
The Milk Carton Kids are touring as the opening act and backing band for fellow singer-songwriter Joe Purdy, and so far the duo has been receiving enthusiastic attentiveness to their sets. They read this enthusiasm as an endorsement of their pretty simplicity.

"The sound that we're creating as a duo is really complete, with the two guitars and two voices," said Kenneth Pattengale. "It's how the songs were meant to be, so it's a lot more fulfilling. Nothing is missing."

He and Joey Ryan had each been building a solo career on the road and in the studio before joining together as the Milk Carton Kids. Each also came into the duo with a sense of admiration for the other's work.

"I saw Kenneth play a show and was blown away," Ryan said during a phone interview. "I paid him a compliment, and he went home and got my album on iTunes, and a couple of weeks later we tried to sing and play on each other's songs. It was just a real natural fit that first day."

Within a couple more months, the two decided to play some shows together, and they did so as simply as possible: They traveled with little more than their acoustic guitars.

For their first album, "Retrospect," recorded under their real names, Pattengale and Ryan spent a good deal of 2010 seeing how fans would respond to their collaboration, which at that point was restricted to playing and harmonizing on songs that each member had written on his own. A studio seemed beside the point.

"Our entire experience with those songs was in the live setting," Ryan said. "The reactions were so strong from the live shows that we figured we should stay true to that experience. We took a lot of precautions with small rooms and a crowd that was just really excited to be involved."

The clarity of "Retrospect" extends to the material, which doesn't show the obvious fingerprints of one songwriter or the other.

"We were traveling and discovering a lot," Ryan said. "It sounds to me as if there's a common thread, a singular narrative like a snapshot out of one person's life."

This August, the Milk Carton Kids will extend and expand their collaboration with "Prologue," with Pattengale and Ryan writing as well as performing together.

"There's more cohesion to the project for 'Prologue' because it was all written at the same time," Pattengale said. "It's recorded live in a studio."

"With all the adulteration of creation of music with methods of production, there's an inclination to take it to the stage and make our case," Pattengale said. "We make a real connection to people, because it's increasingly hard to make a connection through recorded music."
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