BY KELLY DEARMORE
Similar to the most celebrated chefs, the best thing musician s can often do is to take the most basic, simple ingredients and form them into a time-honored concoction. Of course, simplistic beauty is often a recipe that’s tough to master, as there’s little room for error or extraneous distraction. The Ash & Clay, which is the new record from The Milk Carton Kids, is a fine representation of a dish that’s been plated to near perfection with but a small amount of key elements to make it a delight.
California’s Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan teamed with producer Joe Henry (yes, that Joe Henry), to craft an album that, in the absence of a Gillian Welch record in 2013, will likely stand as one of the year’s most qualified albums to fit under the “Timeless Sounds” category. Unlike many of the folk-tinged acts that are striking mainstream gold these days, Pattengale and Ryan, employ only their lock-step harmonies and nimble acoustic guitar-work in order to achieve their intended goal.
The duo doesn’t stop at crafting striking, spare arrangements, though. Pattengale and Ryan have something to say, and sticking to the simpler-is-better method of artfulness, they come right out and say it. A duo of tunes makes it pristinely clear that the group has things beyond this world on their mind, even if they aren’t sure there’s anything going on after our time on Earth is complete.
In the crawling, somber “On the Mend,” the duo sings, “I could say that for a moment, it all made perfect sense. No one holding posture, nothing heaven-sent, hold the hand that leads you, there’s no God here to believe. What matters is around us, in the air we breathe.” Immediately following that tune on the album is the up-tempo, “Heaven,” complete with nimble, Bluegrass-style picking that is often associated with old-timey songs of praise. In this case, however, the Kids aren’t in a terribly faithful mood as they sing, “Go ahead, stomp your feet on the floorboards, clap your hands, that’s what you really came here for.”
The title track, along with the noirish “Snake Eyes,” and “Jewel of June,” (which is one of the better songs that Simon and Garfunkel never recorded), appeared in Gus Van Zandt’s film “The Promised Land,” which starred Matt Damon as an Natural Gas company exec trying to rob a small town of its natural resources. The film, while underwhelming overall, boasted beautiful rural cinematography. Such a pairing of naturally beautiful imagery and music makes perfect sense, again, because of the pastoral purity evident throughout The Ash & Clay.
DOWNLOAD: “Heaven,” “The Ash & Clay,” “Honey, Honey”