Published Jul 09, 2018The California duo of singer/songwriters Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan became darlings of the folk world with their three previous albums, and deservedly so — their sweet and harmony-driven sound was as fresh as a breeze off Big Sur.
They make a significant stylistic change here by bringing in session players to flesh out their sound, but the focus remains on their gentle, well-crafted compositions and the tightest vocal harmonies this side of the Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel. The duo were smart to select Joe Henry (Bonnie Raitt, Bettye Lavette, Elvis Costello) to produce. A skilled singer-songwriter himself, he was able to help MCK expand their sound instrumentally without detracting from their core strengths.
Confirming that less can be more, "You Break My Heart" is a minimal gem built around Pattengale's voice and the shimmering pedal steel of Russ Pahl. At the other end of the song-length spectrum is the ten-minute-plus "One More for the Road," a slowly unfolding piece co-written with Mark Stepro and Garrison Starr.
You might expect the cleverly entitled "Mourning in America" to be a reflection of the nation's dysfunctional state, but it conveys a mood of personal resignation rather than any political polemics. The accompanying strings here verge on the syrupy, unfortunately, a rare misstep. There is a similarly melancholy feel to opening cut "Just Look at Us Now," featuring such lyrics as "I cried out with no reply into the silence of the night to the child that I don't recognize."
The album comes to a gently mournful conclusion with "I've Been Loving You," with haunting steel again employed. Not an album you'd crank up at a summer patio party, but a quietly compelling work. (Anti)