Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
f Joey Ryan's music career doesn't take off as planned - and that seems quite unlikely at this point - he can always fall back on his deadpan humor to get him through life.
But Ryan and sidekick Kenneth Pattengale have quite a thing going these days as The Milk Carton Kids that is parts Smothers Brothers, Everly Brothers and Simon & Garfunkel.
Last August, they were the opening act on a bill with The Lumineers and Old Crow Medicine Show at the House of Blues, a setting that definitely did not work to their strengths because the crowd was not particularly intent on listening.
What a difference eight months and perhaps one brand new album will make. Not only did the Milk Carton Kids sell out the club in advance with about 250 in attendance, but they also had the crowd tightly wound around what they do.
As for Ryan, the guy proved he was quite the funny man from the get go. Before they even played a lick, Ryan apologized for having people stand to the side of the stage (most were seated), but then proceeded to blame the crowd for "buying too many tickets."
The humor went on throughout the night, sometimes poking fun at his band mate, who took it all in stride. Pattengale gave it back a bit here and there as well.
Now, while most bands were shamelessly plug their wares, at least Ryan did it in a humorous way. He pointed out that the group's first two discs - "Retrospect" and "Prologue," both from 2011, were available for a free download at their web site. But he also made it known that fans also could buy the albums this evening at their merch table, while also making it crystal clear that the albums could be had for free online. Ryan went back and forth with this line of humor, drawing a big laugh from the enthusiastic crowd.
Ryan delivered the bad news that the free aspect did not apply to their new CD, "The Ash & Clay (Anti-), which came out in late March.
But if the Kids were only about the humor, that would only go so far. The fact of the matter is that their songs also are quite good. Musically, they have a strong Everlys thing going on with tight harmonies or a give-and-take on vocals a la Simon and Garfunkel.
Both styles fit Pattengale and Ryan quite well. In reality, the humor also helped Pattengale and Ryan because some of the songs were on the tad too slow side with the patter enabling the crowd to relax more.
While Ryan tended to have more of the solos, Pattengale acquitted himself well, particularly on Charlie, a song written to his unborn child, who doesn't have a mother yet either (that was Ryan's humorous intro at play yet again).
The first four songs were from the new disc, starting with Hope of a Lifetime with a warm Everlys vibe. The crowd may not necessarily have been overly familiar with the material, but the songs were not hard to get into either.
While the humor was ever present, make no mistake about it, the Milk Carton Kids were filled with musical talent as well. On this night, they had ample opportunities to show it off. That's no joke.
Molly Tuttle, a Berklee College of Music sophomore, led a trio through a good set of bluegrass music. The musicianship was on the high side, no surprise given the fact that Tuttle and her sidekicks - John Milander on fiddle and George Clements on guitar - were all at Berklee.
Interestingly, this was their first gig as a trio because it sure didn't seem like it given the tightness of the music. The three also had the chance to let loose and play out as well.
Tuttle was a strong singer, in the Alison Krauss mode (although she's not to be confused with Krauss quite yet). She had a hand in writing a chunk of the song she sang and deserves credit for covering Katie Cruel, which she learned from listening to late '60s folk singer Karen Dalton who was on the scene far before Tuttle's time.
Tuttle, a California native, who plays in a family bluegrass band, has good vocal chops, but could have benefitted from more seasoning when it came to being the focal point.