The Milk Carton Kids

The Only Ones

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On the follow-up to 2018's All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn't Do, Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan return to their roots on the aptly named Only Ones, an intimate seven-song set that jettisons its predecessor's expanded lineup, relying solely on the Grammy-nominated duo's impeccable guitar and vocal skills. Earnest and soul-searching, opener "I Meant Every Word I Said" sets a somber tone, parsing through the wreckage of a failed relationship, while "I'll Be Gone" adopts a jauntier gait, chronicling the tried-and-true bluegrass/country rambler story arc, albeit in a minor key. The lovely "My Name Is Ana" delivers a heartfelt refugee tale that's as timely as it is melodically timeless, but that outward gaze is an aberration, as Pattengale and Ryan are confessional singer/songwriters to the core, and will not be deterred from their mission to reflect and connect -- the Paul Simon-esque "About the Size of a Pixel" is about as light-hearted as things get, but beneath its warmly lit exterior lies a cold slab of existential dread. Despite the lyrical solemnity, Only Ones emits a cozy fireplace glow that will no doubt transfer well to a live setting -- the duo plan to promote the LP via a small venue tour billed as A Night with the Milk Carton Kids in Very Small Venues at Very Low Ticket Prices. For the most part, this approach works about as well as it did on their early releases, resulting in a warm but weary amalgam of the Everly Brothers' innate musicality and the Avett Brothers' homespun approachability with a touch of Elliott Smith's downcast ruminations tossed in for good measure.

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