For many years, Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan each had solo careers in Los Angeles, with 10 albums released between the two of them. It may be risky to say so without having heard those independent works, but it’s easy to venture that the decision to come together as a duo makes for a whole even greater than the sum of its parts.
Working as a team, Pattengale and Ryan became favorites on the SoCal scene, regularly wowing crowds at L.A.’s cozy but prestigious Hotel Café. The pair’s classic folk/Americana songcraft draws comparisons to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Civil Wars and Justin Townes Earle, but it is the beautiful, high-end harmonies, akin to Simon & Garfunkel in their prime, that truly bring chills.
Under their given names, Pettengale and Ryan gave away a 14-track live duo debut album, “Retrospect,” on their website (and it’s still available there for free today) and hit the road opening and serving as backing band for folk troubadour Joe Purdy.
Earlier this year, the pair took on the name The Milk Carton Kids and recorded a debut studio effort, “Prologue,” which is, again, a free download at their site. The Kids’ first national headlining tour pulled into Jammin’ Java last Friday and brought a library-style hush to the generally bustling music café as the crowd eagerly leaned in to catch the lovely sounds.
The set list (you can see it here, with some last minute changes) was divided between “Retrospect” and “Prologue.” Perhaps it was the generous act of giving away both albums that made the crowd so attentive and seemingly familiar with the material. Or perhaps the audience simply didn’t want to miss a note. With just two acoustic guitars and two voices, MCK songs have a warmth and delicacy that cast a silence-inducing spell. Add to that Pattengale’s superb finger-picking lead guitar and Ryan’s droll, quiet asides and you’ve got a classic coffee house vibe that you’d be a cad to disturb. Still, there were plenty of laughs as the two engaged in quietly sarcastic banter between-songs and even during them, as when an encore performance of “Laredo” threatened to go off the rails as Pattengale forgot the words.
The evening started with an engaging opening set from singer/songwriter Gaby Moreno, who also had the crowd’s full attention. Guatamalan-born, now L.A. based, Moreno’s resume includes co-writing the theme song for the NBC hit, “Parks and Recreation.” Her strong presence and ability to bring soulful Latin touches to her poppy material could soon make her a headliner in her own right.
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