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Folk/Americana - Released March 22, 2013 | Anti - Epitaph

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Folk/Americana - Released June 29, 2018 | Anti - Epitaph

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Folk/Americana - Released June 29, 2018 | Anti - Epitaph

In what may sound like a potentially seismic shift in the career of Grammy-nominated acoustic guitar duo the Milk Carton Kids, their fourth album, All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn't Do, not only employs a backing band for the first time, but one numbering up to eight. In another first, they also relinquish a role in producing. It should reassure fans of their earlier work, then, to hear that the album's restrained performances and deliberate arrangements retain the warmth and solemn, reflective tone that have characterized the project thus far, and that distinguish the songwriting here as well. It's also worth noting that the talent involved includes Dennis Crouch of the Time Jumpers and the Nashville Bluegrass Band on double bass and Wilco's Pat Sansone on piano and Hammond organ, and it's Joe Henry helping to maintain a tasteful balance from the producer's chair. With the entire ten-piece on hand, "Mourning in America," for instance, opens with piano, strings, guitar, and clarinet before the low-key rhythm section and Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan's familiar harmonized vocals enter. Despite the full house, the singers are never challenged for the spotlight. Soft timbres like brushed snare, atmospheric pedal steel, and a clarinet employed for its harmonic texture provide a light, pastoral touch to tracks like opener "Just Look at Us Now" and "One More for the Road." The latter has an extensive instrumental passage that features Pattengale's expressive flatpicking work, though his playing is prominent throughout the over ten-minute entry, even as the vocalists set the scene of a long goodbye. That track is followed by the livelier "Big Time," which, even acknowledging its brighter outlook, still adheres to themes of adversity and partings. Across the album's 12 yearning songs, the performances not only breathe but seem to sigh in concert with the main duo, arriving at what is much more an expansion of their trademark sound than a renouncement of it. ~ Marcy Donelson
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Folk/Americana - Released May 15, 2015 | Anti - Epitaph

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Folk/Americana - Released March 22, 2013 | Anti - Epitaph

Ash & Clay, the second studio album from Los Angeles-based acoustic duo the Milk Carton Kids, offers up 12 no-frill slabs of vintage Greenwich Village-inspired folk that blend the close harmony singing of Simon & Garfunkel with the technical acumen of the Punch Brothers. A live staple at L.A. folk and comedy clubs, Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan are known as much for their Smothers Brothers-esque banter as they are for their music, but Ash & Clay steers clear of any shenanigans, relying heavily on classic folk tropes like love ("Honey, Honey") heartbreak ("Years Gone By"), religion ("On the Mend"), and politics ("The Ash & the Clay"), effortlessly bandying about non-specific beatnik vernacular like a pair of well-read, mock-turtleneck-wearing, MacDougal Street time travelers. Stand-out cuts like the velvety waltz "Snake Eyes," with its parlor-gospel underpinnings and winking proclamation of "Slow, holy roller/It's just rock & roll," the wistful Gillian Welch/Avett Brothers-infused opener "Hope of a Lifetime," and "Memphis," an evocative, impossibly lonesome, last-smoke-of-the-evening meditation on Paul Simon's "Graceland" ("This ain't a trip with my son/there's no guitar shines in the sun"), succeed by invoking the duo's heroes without replicating their idiosyncrasies. In other instances, it's hard to hear Pattengale and Ryan's voices amidst all of the infrastructure, however austere. Songs like "Promised Land" and "Whisper in Her Ear," while undeniably beautiful and immaculately delivered, lack even the tiniest shard of originality, feeling more like outtakes from an Off-Broadway, folk revival-inspired musical than they do midnight emissions from an impassioned, rent-depleted singer/songwriter. That said, the album succeeds more often than it flounders, and even then, the singin' and pickin' is so good that it's hard not to submit, but one wishes that the pair had decided to infuse the collection with a bit more of their signature wit, as much of The Ash & Clay feels a bit like a serious Flight of the Conchords. ~ James Christopher Monger
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Folk/Americana - Released May 15, 2015 | Anti - Epitaph

Folk/Americana - Released October 23, 2015 | Anti - Epitaph

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Folk/Americana - Released January 8, 2013 | Anti - Epitaph

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