The Milk Carton Kids – “The Ash & Clay”

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Truthfully, before hearing them, the last genre I had LA-based duo The Milk Carton Kids pegged as was “folk.” However, I hardly mind being wrong when it’s because of an album as unique as The Ash & Clay.

The album takes a rather simplistic concept, that being two men and two guitars, but the duo’s solid musicianship means the final product’s anything but shallow. As a whole, it oozes a frontiers-y charm that really sets it apart, giving airs of a modern take on very traditional American music.

It really comes out swinging, too, with an awfully memorable riff to kick off the mild, slightly melancholic ‘Hope of a Lifetime.’ The slow, calm feeling continues through “Snake Eyes,” before the bite-sized “Honey, Honey” picks up the pace significantly with its faster tempo and rather aggressive guitar work. The upshift only lasts for that short bit, however, as the hauntingly beautiful “Years Gone By” brings it back down to Earth with another dose of melancholy. Coming up next is the titular song, which balances its fun, lighthearted instrumentation with some depressing lyrical content. The first half of the album rolls to a gentle stop with the very slow, contemplative “Promised Land.”

“The Jewel of June” showcases more impressive guitar work, with another memorable intro riff and, at the halfway point of the song, a brief but fantastic solo. It’s followed up by “Whisper in Her Ear” which is the only song on the album that is not particularly memorable. ‘On the Mend’ evokes a lonely, nostalgic feel as the usually strong guitar sounds of “The Ash & Clay” take a backseat and tone it way down to allow the vocals to take center stage. A personal favorite is “Heaven” which takes the quick pace of “Honey, Honey” and dials it up even further, leading to a wholly enjoyable experience. The contemplative, hopeful ‘Hear Them Loud’ follows up and provides a good set-up for a solid album ender. That closer is “Memphis,” which strikes me as having a very different sound than the rest of the album in its construction that is rather light on guitar play but is nevertheless fantastic.

Even if you’ve little or no experience with folk in the past, The Ash & Clay is absolutely worth a try, as Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan have put together something with a captivating uniqueness and beautiful sound. The Ash & Clay is available starting on March 26th from Anti- Records.

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