I’m a big fan of the Milk Carton Kids, two young singer/songwriter/guitarists who punctuate their performances with dry wit. That young singer/songwriter Sarah Jarosz would be joining them seemed like a bonus too good to pass up, so we trekked up to one of Nelson Rockefeller’s better forward-thinking projects and settled into the comfortable seats and great acoustics at Albany, NY’s The Egg.
Together, guitarists Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan write intelligent songs and deliver them beautifully, with arresting close harmonies and outstanding acoustic guitar, especially from Pattengale. When multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz—who can hold her own in any company—joined them this night, things got a bit more interesting. Adding bass, cello and fiddle, however, may have muddied the musical waters more than it deepened them, despite the high caliber of the musicians backing the vocalists. The Milk Carton Kids’ duets produce a remarkably complex sonic palette all by themselves, with brilliant vocals that bob and weave, and modern folk acoustic guitar turns well worthy of their sometimes extended instrumental excursions.
The Milk Carton Kids have much in common with the Everly Brothers, and their take on “Sleepless Nights” was nothing less than brilliant, with tight and soulful harmony, stunning changes and well-conceived use of slide which showed off Jarosz’s skills. Ditto for a remake of Skeeter Davis’s teen-angst anthem, “The End of the World,” complete with the requisite weepy string section. Alex Hargreaves’ masterful fiddle really can stand alone as well.
Anyone new to the Milk Carton Kids, or to Sarah Jarosz, undoubtedly considered the performance near-perfect, and truly it was. That said, if I wanted to photograph a perfect rose, I’d find a white background, not rose-patterned gift wrap, and I think the Milk Carton Kids’ subtleties are best presented in a simple setting, without further adornment. I know I shouldn’t complain about having too many talented musicians on stage at one time, but in this case, less is more.
– Suzanne Cadgène