What does it sound like?:
There is something deeply moving about a pair of men singing together in harmony. Solo, there is a tendency to a display of dominant ego and macho bravado, even aggression. Tender moments can be few. A duo can support each other enough to expose vulnerabilities and overcome flaws and weakness. Fragility becomes a strength. Emotions resonate. A duo can more easily speak to truth, to a baring of the soul. At least until the pair of them fall out.
Joey Ryan plays a 1951 Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar while Kenneth Pattengale performs on a 1954 Martin 0-15 and their voices intertwine sweetly. For this, their fifth album, they’ve added a full band. They like a Country twinge, a weeping pedal steel, a mournful violin and aren’t adverse to strings, a sonorous cello or a saxophone. They even invite guest vocalists, Laura Lou and Logan Ledger, in an attempt to liven things up.
For the most part, the pace is funereal, the tone melancholy. There is much skill and craft to admire, especially on the extended guitar duel for the ten minute long One For The Road. There are moments when the piano could be described as jaunty but only Younger Years is a sprightly foot-tapper, brightened by some nimble finger picking. These boys can play as well as they can sing. The rest of the musicians are very fine indeed but The Milk Carton Kids USB includes coiled duetting acoustic guitars. The broader sound palette has diluted their character.
The lyrics concern heartbreak, loss, the state of the nation and death, your average Country fare. In real life, poor Pattengale has recovered from a cancer and broken up a long term relationship. The music meanders purposefully beneath the dulcet vocals, trying to find an elusive melody. And that’s the problem with the album. It’s a tip of a Stetson to Simon and Garfunkel but without a truly decent tune. The finale is the title track and the most Simon-esque, both in style and in the character of the voice, a rueful Paul Simon looking back with some regret. It’s a strong finish but, instead of inspiring a flick to start again with track one, it had me reaching out for an album made in 1973.
Each track on All The Things That I Did and All The Things That I Didn’t Do is very lovely. They will sound good on a playlist rubbing shoulders with songs by other Folk/Americana artists. As an album, the twelve tracks hang together nicely but listening to the whole in one sitting is a drudge and any emotional resonance quickly gets lost.
What does it all *mean*?
Band names are important. The Milk Carton Kids are struggling to overcome a wet and drippy image before a note is even heard. Still, they have resilience. They are growing and developing. They need stronger material and to find a way to showcase their guitar playing in a wider band setting. I’m sure they’ll work things out.
Goes well with…
A solemn mood.
Might suit people who like…
Beautiful harmonies, nifty fingers on a fretboard and the calm, gentle waters in the shallow end of Americana.