The word “immediate” crops up often when Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan reflect on their short evolution as the Milk Carton Kids. They use it to explain the intense chemistry they share as singers and guitarists whose close harmonies belie the fact that they started the folk duo just two years ago.
On “The Ash & Clay,” their unvarnished new album on Anti- Records, they come across as Dust Bowl troubadours armed with acoustic guitars and voices that mesh beautifully, like those of siblings. For shorthand, you can think of the Milk Carton Kids, who come to Brighton Music Hall on Thursday, as an all-male version of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
Singer-songwriters on their own, Pattengale and Ryan banded together after crossing paths in the same clubs in their native Los Angeles.
THE MILK CARTON KIDS
“The first time we played together was very casual, on the front porch of my parents’ house in California,” Pattengale says. “You know, it was immediate. Not necessarily in the sense that it was immediately good. But when he and I played and sang together, I think for both of us out came a sound that neither one of us had ever heard.”
“My first response was to his songwriting,” Ryan says of his singing partner. “The first time I saw Kenneth, he was standing on a dark stage and performing a song he had written from the perspective of a dog that had just been hit by a truck. It turned out that our voices and our guitars specifically were meant for one another. We understand our voices in the context of two voices together.”
Pattengale and Ryan, both of whom are 31, also knew they wanted to keep the Milk Carton Kids spare, with a focus on the power of just voices, guitars, and their joint songwriting.
“One of the things he and I had agreed upon early on was limiting ourselves to what’s physically at our disposal,” Pattengale says. “Conceptually from the start the idea has been to arrange this less like a band and more like a string quartet — arrange the voices and instruments as a piece of chamber music.”
“We had both had experiences collaborating with other people,” Pattengale adds, “but this was a bona fide example of singing with somebody and understanding that the other person elicited something new out of your voice and contextualized it in a different way. We recognized immediately that it was special.”
Special is exactly how you’d describe the new album from the Chapin Sisters. “A Date With the Everly Brothers,” set for release on Tuesday, is a lush and loving tribute to the country-pop duo Abigail and Lily Chapin first discovered as kids who weren’t even born when Don and Phil Everly were at their peak.
“We listened to the oldies station a lot growing up,” says Abigail. “On the school bus, both ways, it was the only thing the entire bus could agree on. There was a lot of Everly Brothers at the time: ‘Wake Up Little Susie,’ ‘Bye Bye Love,’ and ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream.’ ”
Those songs were tailor-made for the cozy harmony singing that the Chapins have specialized in since forming nearly a decade ago. One morning, around the kitchen table, inspiration struck when Abigail and Lily were listening to the Everlys and found themselves singing the rich harmonies they had first learned on the bus.
It was a fast process. Within a week of that moment in the kitchen, they had resolved to make an album, picked the songs, and recorded them. After the album was finished, and they thought it was pretty special, they decided to fund its release with a Kickstarter campaign that earned close to $18,500, well over their initial goal of $12,000.
Recorded live in the studio with a band, the album draws on a broad swath of the Everly Brothers’ catalog, from the hits (“Cathy’s Clown” and an especially dreamy take of “All I Have to Do Is Dream”) to lesser-known material (“Down in the Willow Garden”).
The Chapins, who went so far as to dress up as Don and Phil Everly in their latest promo photos (complete with suits and pompadours), haven’t heard from the Everlys about the project. But they have been in touch with Del Bryant, the son of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, the husband-and-wife team who wrote many of the Everlys’ early hits. “He said his parents would have loved us,” Lily says, clearly touched.
“This album wasn’t made as a conscious decision that we’ve been huge Everly Brothers fans our whole lives,” Abigail says. “Their music has just been in the ether. And because we’re so interested in harmony singing, we’d always end up singing the third harmony parts of their songs. We’re just programmed to do that.”