The Kids have grown up without losing what made them in the first place.
The Milk Carton Kids have had quite a degree of success with their brand of stripped-down contemporary folk, releasing seven studio albums since Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan pooled their resources in 2011. However, they have faced a challenge in recent years, how do you keep the music fresh when it is so stripped down? The pandemic helped resolve this challenge by providing the time for The Milk Carton Kids to reconnect with their core values and bring an extra spark to their new songs on their latest album, ‘I Only See The Moon’. The album was recorded at their own studio and was produced by Kenneth Pattendale, keeping everything in the family and also giving them the luxury of time to really dig deep for the completed tracks. While the pandemic may have provided the time and space to give ‘I Only See The Moon’ the environment to grow to its full potential, it is not a pandemic record per se.
Album opener ‘All Of The Time In The World To Kill’ with its examination of what is really important in life despite the challenges it throws up, sets the tone for the whole album in that it is undeniably The Milk Carton Kids, but Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale bring new sonic touches to their basic stripped-down approach. The vocals shine on the plaintive ‘Star Shine’ which looks back with wistfulness and a sense of regret. The Milk Carton Kids may not be brothers, but their vocals do remind the listener of the great bluegrass brother acts and this is nowhere more in evidence that on the bluegrass-tinged song of lost love, ‘When You’re Gone’. The title track ‘I Only See The Moon’ has some echoes of Nick Drake and Robert Kirby’s orchestrations. The Milk Carton Kids do melancholy really well, particularly on ‘Running On Sweet Smile’ which has a positive message hidden within the sadness. ‘One True Love’ is as beautiful as the title implies, and though The Milk Carton Kids hail from Los Angeles, there is a hint of the timelessness of folk music here. The tempo is raised on ‘Body and Soul’ with some lightning guitar licks reminding listeners of how good instrumentally the band are. Finger-picking guitar is to the fore on the penultimate track ‘North Country Ride’ which proves the power of the guitar and vocal combination. Album closer ‘Will You Remember Me’ reminds listeners of the essence of The Milk Carton Kids and is proof positive that Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale are meant to play and sing together.
With ‘I Only See The Moon’ The Milk Carton Kids have reconnected with their original ideals, but they are not repeating themselves. Their newfound confidence allows them to filter their more adult life experiences through their songwriting and musical skills to provide a new chapter in their story. If you are a fan of the band you will be very pleased, and maybe a little relieved, at what they have managed to achieve, and if you are new to their music then ‘I Only See The Moon’ is as good a place as any to acquaint yourself with their oeuvre.