In what may sound like a potentially seismic shift in the career of Grammy-nominated acoustic guitar duo the Milk Carton Kids, their fourth album, All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn't Do, not only employs a backing band for the first time, but one numbering up to eight. In another first, they also relinquish a role in producing. It should reassure fans of their earlier work, then, to hear that the album's restrained performances and deliberate arrangements retain the warmth and solemn, reflective tone that have characterized the project thus far, and that distinguish the songwriting here as well. It's also worth noting that the talent involved includes Dennis Crouch of the Time Jumpers and the Nashville Bluegrass Band on double bass and Wilco's Pat Sansone on piano and Hammond organ, and it's Joe Henry helping to maintain a tasteful balance from the producer's chair. With the entire ten-piece on hand, "Mourning in America," for instance, opens with piano, strings, guitar, and clarinet before the low-key rhythm section and Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan's familiar harmonized vocals enter. Despite the full house, the singers are never challenged for the spotlight. Soft timbres like brushed snare, atmospheric pedal steel, and a clarinet employed for its harmonic texture provide a light, pastoral touch to tracks like opener "Just Look at Us Now" and "One More for the Road." The latter has an extensive instrumental passage that features Pattengale's expressive flatpicking work, though his playing is prominent throughout the over ten-minute entry, even as the vocalists set the scene of a long goodbye. That track is followed by the livelier "Big Time," which, even acknowledging its brighter outlook, still adheres to themes of adversity and partings. Across the album's 12 yearning songs, the performances not only breathe but seem to sigh in concert with the main duo, arriving at what is much more an expansion of their trademark sound than a renouncement of it.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson