Milk Carton Kids

The Milk Carton Kids’ ‘Monterey’ out this week

TheMilkCartonKidsThis record doesn’t have a lot of direct Joe Henry associations (though he does contribute an essay to the liner notes), but The Milk Carton Kids have been championed by JH pretty much from the get-go (in fact, he contributed vocals to Pattengale’s solo record pre-dating The Kids).  The duo’s popularity has exploded since the release of their last album, The Ash & The Clay, but fans will not be disappointed in the follow-up, Monterey, which is out on Anti- Records just this week.

Monterey is a brisk listen and, in my opinion, by far their most cohesive.  It’s more than the sum of its excellent songs, and the flow from one track to the next contains an urgency you wouldn’t expect from such a low-key record.  Recorded on the road and self-produced, this album represents a perfecting of the format they’ve adopted for themselves.

I recall not too long ago that they had said that they definitely had one more pure acoustic duo album ahead of them, but beyond Monterey, I wonder if we should expect them to branch out musically.  Pattengale is a rather accomplished multi-instrumentalist, but they’ve been so successful at their craft, it should be interested to see where The Milk Carton Kids go from here.

That is, after they wrap up their extensive tour, which carries them through to the end of 2015.  In the meantime, by all means check out Monterey, as well as this performance of the title track from the studios of World Café:

Joe Henry update (late, late summer edition)

Just a few odds and ends out of the Joe Henry universe (and nearby galaxies)…

  • First, JH and Levon should be wrapping up their brief Australian tour, which has been accompanied by some favorable press (a particularly nice article and interview in the Sydney Morning Herald).
  • JH will be returning stateside to appear very shortly thereafter at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville.  Joe’s official showcase will be at City Winery on September 18, but I’m sure he’ll be seen around the festival elsewhere.
  • JH recently participated in a social media fundraising campaign for MusicCares.  Various artists challenged three friends to post a picture of themselves with an album “that has made your life better” (along with a $5 donation to MusicCares).  Stefan has the low-down over at his blog.
  • A few notes from some friends and associates…
    • Over The Rhine will be releasing yet another Christmas album.  Blood Oranges in the Snow will be released on Nov. 4 and is described by Karin and Linford as “reality Christmas.”  (I don’t believe that JH had any hand in its production, but well worth your attention nonetheless.)
    • The Milk Carton Kids will be touring this fall again with Sarah Jarosz, featuring “collaborative performances” between the artists.  Full schedule here.
    • Some of you may know that I’m a shameless and die-hard Lucinda Williams fan.  Her new record (the double-album Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone) will be released on her own label on September 30.  At one time, JH was the rumored producer on this project.  However, in his place, frequent JH accomplice and all-around string master Greg Leisz became the co-producer (along with Williams and manager Tom Overby) and also contributes his guitar wizardry to nearly every track.  Bill Frisell, who collaborated with both JH and Leisz most notably on Civilians, lends his distinctive guitar work to two tracks (and is rumored to be featured on more tracks on yet another Lucinda record due sometime next year).  Several tracks have made their way online through various outlets, but if you want to hear what magic Frisell and Leisz can conjure, feast your ears on the album’s closing track, a cover of JJ Cale’s “Magnolia” (nine-plus minutes long!).  In my book, a Joe Henry album and Lucinda Williams album in the same year is pretty much all I could ask for.
  • And last but not least, this fall will see the release of two Bob Dylan projects.  First, the long wished-for Complete Basement Tapes will be released on Nov. 4.  A semi-related companion called Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes will be released on Nov. 11.  That record will feature Dylan lyrics from the period written into songs and performed by a talented group comprised of Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Jim James and Marcus Mumford.  JH mentor T-Bone Burnett oversaw and produced the whole thing.  No doubt, Joe Henry is smiling.

Emmylou Harris & Milk Carton Kids track premieres at The Bluegrass Situation

You can hear yet another stunning track (“Apache Tears” by Emmylou Harris & The Milk Carton Kids) from Look Again To The Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited over at the website The Bluegrass Situation.  The post also features some comments from the Kids on working with Emmylou and Steve Earle.

Don’t forget – the record comes out next Tuesday, Aug. 19.

Wild Edges: A Recap

(Apologies for the relative lateness of this post, but as you know – since you are reading this post at the new site – I’ve been a little busy with the move of the blog.  Thanks for your patience and thanks for checking out the new blog location. – DK)

Wild_EdgesJosh Hurst – a friend and occasional contributor to this blog – joked this past weekend about how he personally “willed into existence” last year’s collaboration between Elvis Costello and The Roots, two acts for whom he is very passionate.  One could make a similar observation that Wild Edges – a commissioned performance of original songs from Joe Henry, Over The Rhine and The Milk Carton Kids – might have likewise been the result of subconscious prayer and wishful thinking from Josh, myself or any number of fans of these intertwined talents.

Setting aside the complete uniqueness of the event (over two nights at Durham’s Hayti Heritage Center), one could conceivably worry that the endeavor would look better on paper than it would sound in execution.  It is, after all, a tall order for artists to compose and perform original music, never heard in public in any format, and connect it to the ears of an expectant audience.  If anticipation was already high, the stunning and intimate setting of the Hayti certainly raised the stakes.

All that said, however, it will surprise few readers of this blog that I and – judging from their exuberant reaction – nearly everyone in attendance walked away from the two nights with all expectations met and exceeded, not to mention souls and spirits nourished and renewed.  The premise was to connect selections from the Great American Songbook – which in this context was represented by inspirations such as “Delia’s Gone”, “The Needle and The Damage Done”, “Spring Can Hang You Up The Most” and many others – to the new songs.  Those connections were occasionally explicit but mostly provided springboards for the compositions, which, according to Henry, would have to “fight it out in the streets,” just like any other songs.

And fight they did; though in these capable hands, they mostly floated like butterflies while occasionally stinging like bees.  Almost every song had something unique to offer.  Henry’s “The Glorious Dead” certainly sounded like something lifted directly from his own songbook, but, as Linford Detweiler pointed out, sounded like “an unearthed hymn.”  “Dangerous Love” was a swinging tune on its own merits, but Levon Henry’s wicked saxophone solo that capped off the performance wrenched it off its foundations.  Both evenings opened with “Los Lunas,” which was as perfect a song as I’ve heard Karin Bergquist sing, underpinned by Kenneth Pattengale’s lilting pedal steel.  Joey Ryan had several standout performances, and his voice proved to be a key ingredient on many of the evening’s songs.  Ryan reliably provided dry comic relief in between more than a few of the songs.

The cast was superbly accompanied by Henry regulars Jennifer Condos (bass) and Jay Bellerose (drums, percussion and assorted noise), along with Levon on clarinet and saxophone.  The performances were packed with musical highlights but certainly his contributions were among the most indelible.  Likewise, Pattengale no doubt shocked the audience with his vast reserves of instrumental talent, which included impressive work on pedal steel, dobro, electric guitar, accordion and piano.  The number of participants ranged from two (when Pattengale accompanied Bergquist with his soulful piano on a tune only played during the second evening) to all participants, with all points in between as various cast members left the stage briefly.  Unsurprisingly, with this batch of talent, the arrangements never threatened to overshadow or suffocate the songs themselves.

The proceedings were recorded by engineer Ryan Freeland for possible future release, and after two nearly flawless presentations, one should anticipate that little will prevent that from happening.

Followers of these acts are most likely the type of music fans who hold dear the notion that music is more than mere entertainment and can occasionally achieve transcendence.  My guess is that all who bore witness to these miraculous two nights of music walked away with that assumption both intact and fortified.

Here are a couple of reviews from the local North Carolina press: