Milk Carton Kids, an L.A.-based duo heralded for their vocal harmonies and acoustic guitar picking, will play at the Buckman Arts Center on April 16th. If you like folk, acoustic music, and vocal harmonies, this is one of the best shows of the year. The band is riding a wave of admiration with appearances on network television, cable, and public radio. But the music lives up the hype in this instance.
The songwriting and the harmonies are relentlessly good. Both voices are strong and real. Each voice is a welcome relief from the “confessional” anti-voice sound that dooms so many acoustic projects. For the Milk Carton Kids, the voices are the primary focus. Their harmonies are so well constructed that comparisons to the Everly Brothers are inevitable. But there is a lot more than mimicry going on in this music.
Rather than worry about keeping a drummer (or any other instrument) in check, Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan each play guitar in service to the vocals and omit the rhythm section. It’s counterintuitive to think that you would get better dynamics (movement from loud to soft or vice versa) out of two dudes with acoustic guitars than you do out of 90 percent of contemporary rock records featuring a full band; but it's true. Their instrumental work rises and falls along with the harmonies in ways a band just can’t do. That’s why Van Morrison gets so mad all the time. The Milk Carton Kids figured it out.