Review: Milk Carton Kids are Well Worth Revisiting on ‘Prologue’

Milk Carton Kids/Prologue/Thirty Tigers
3.5 Out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Originally conceived as the union of two otherwise obscure singer/songwriters, Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, Milk Carton Kids has evolved over the past decade into one of the more popular performing duos on today’s Americana scene. Known for their softly-hued ballads and quick-witted humor, they’ve become unlikely headliners in a generally noisy world. To their combined credit, they’ve also managed to carve a successful career on little more than the strength of their hushed harmonies, breathless balladry, and paired acoustic guitars. That said, they often sound like a reincarnation of early-period Simon and Garfunkel, Chad and Jeremy or Peter and Gordon, a throwback to the folk era of the mid-sixties when those particular accouterments were all that were needed.

A joint live album, released under their individual names and prematurely titled Retrospect, arrived soon after their initial bonding, quickly leading into Prologue, the more aptly dubbed first album bearing the Milk Carton Kids handle. Widely heralded at the time of its release in July 2011, it garnered material gleaned from their initial studio sessions, with songs such as “Michigan,” “No Hammer To Hold,” “There By Your Side,” and “Des Moines, IA” making for a decidedly unobtrusive intro. All softly subdued and illuminated with a twilight haze, it set the standard for what would follow. Little has changed since.

This vinyl re-release of Prologue features that landmark debut along with a pair of LPs that detail the development of those early songs via early formative individual and duo demos from 2010, many of which would appear on Prologue and some that simply remain untitled. Given that the seminal versions vary little from what would evolve later, the most intriguing entries consist of formative live performances—including the first time they shared the stage in January 2011 and a concert that took place in Columbus, Ohio in December of that year. The latter displays the same witty rapport that would become a standard part of their stage pattern in years to come.

An album-sized booklet sheds additional light on the pair’s backstory as well as lyrics, photos, and detailed notes for each of the set’s offerings. It also shares the story of their partnership and the origins of their dreamy folk-like noir. Both beautiful and beguiling, the music offers a journey back to the beginning that’s well worth revisiting.  

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