Catching Up: Luke Enyeart and The Milk Carton Kids

Short takes on new music I missed

Lately, I’ve been finding lots of great new music. But despite spending more time than ever on this task I still miss many releases. That’s why several weeks ago, I decided to launch a feature to capture some of what I overlooked as short takes. Initially titled The Follow-up, going forward it will be known as Catching Up, a more appropriate title, in my view. Today, I’d like to highlight two albums that dropped on May 19.

Luke Enyeart – Phases

Luke Enyeart (pronounced N-Yurt) is a guitarist, singer-songwriter and producer who is based in Minneapolis, Minn. I first came across his name in April 2020 as one of the co-writers of Waiting On…, a song by R&B artist Jessy Wilson from her May 2019 album Phase, which I reviewed here. In addition to writing for other artists and touring as a lead guitarist with the likes of Ryan Bingham, Katie Pruitt and Yola, Enyeart has been penning his own tunes and in 2018 released his debut EP Happier Now. Now he’s out with his first album, Phases.

Enyeart’s Spotify profile characterizes his original music as “drawing from his influences of ’70s yacht rock, funk, folk, R&B, blues, and contemporary low-fi indie. ” While that’s quite a stew of different genres, the profile adds, “there is a common denominator of soulful groove and catchy guitar riffs with straightforward-earnest lyrics.”

Except for the funky opener Still Tryin’, which Enyeart co-wrote with Jacob Peter and Kosta Galanopoulos, the remaining eight tracks are solely credited to him. One of the tunes that particularly spoke to me is Turn It Around. In addition to vocals by Enyeart, who also plays most of the instruments, the mellow song features nice alto saxophone action by Steve Frieder.

Other tracks I’d like to call out include Changes and Pillow Talk and the groovy Need, which each feature neat slide guitar, as well as the acoustic-oriented jazzy Green. Overall, this album has a pleasant laid-back feel – the kind of music I can picture hearing while laying in a hammock in the shade on a hot summer day. Phases was produced, engineered, mixed and mastered by Enyeart in his own home studio. This young artist is a true multi-talent!

The Milk Carton Kids – I Only See the Moon

The Milk Carton Kids are an indie folk duo from Eagle Rock, Calif., featuring singers and guitarists Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, who have been around for 12 years. Their compelling harmony singing reminds me of Simon & Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers. Pattengale and Ryan are also mighty fine acoustic guitarists.

Before getting to their sixth and latest studio album I Only See the Moon, here’s a bit more background from their AllMusic bio: A Grammy Award-nominated neo-traditional folk duo from Los Angeles, Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan formed the Milk Carton Kids in early 2011, shelving their solo careers in favor of a collaborative project that focused on harmonized vocals, entwined acoustic guitars, and rootsy songwriting. They released their first two albums — the live Retrospect and studio LP Prologue — later in 2011, at which time they also began a pattern of persistent touring.

Known on the road for their adversarial, Smothers Brothers-evoking comedic banter as well as their virtuosic guitar skills (Pattengale’s intricate picking and Ryan’s airtight rhythm guitar), they added a backing band to the project for the first time in 2018 with their fourth studio album, All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do. The duo pared things down for subsequent releases including 2023’s I Only See the Moon.

Off I Only See the Moon, here’s Body & Soul. Like all except one of the other nine tracks, the song was solely written by Pattengale and Ryan. It’s the most invigorated tune on the album, which otherwise has a more melancholic feel. As such, one could argue the song doesn’t represent the album; however, it’s the song I latched on the most!

Other tracks I’d like to call out are All of the Time in the World to Kill, the one tune on the album that involved a co-writer, Brian Wright; When You’re Gone, which includes some lovely banjo; I Only See the Moon, the title track featuring a string arrangement that gives it a more produced feel; and North Country Ride, another gorgeous tune.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: Jessy Wilson/Phase

Does it sometimes happen to you as well that suddenly you remember an artist you really liked when you first discovered them but then they somehow completely disappeared from your radar screen? That’s exactly the experience I had earlier today with Muddy Magnolias and their fantastic debut album Broken People from October 2016. I had first come across this urban-R&B-meets-country-and-delta-blues duo of Jessy Wilson and Kallie North in August 2017 and blogged about the record’s title┬átrack here.

So when I checked whether they had released any new music in the meantime, it turned out North had left at the end of 2017. That’s too bad since I really dug their sound! But there was some good news. I couldn’t find any trace of North but learned Wilson went on to release her solo debut Phase in May 2019. And while at least initially I don’t like it as much as Broken People, there are some pretty intriguing tunes on this album.

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Jessy Wilson (left) and Kallie North

Before getting to the record, I’d like to say a few words about Wilson. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York, listening to artists like Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Curtis Mayfield, Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z and Biggie. After high school, Wilson became a backup singer, working and touring with artists like Alicia Keys, Usher, Kanye West, Faith Hill and Macy Gray. She also met John Legend who became her mentor. In 2013, she decided to strike out on her own as a full-time songwriter and moved to Nashville, Tenn.

There she met North, who originally hailed from Beaumont, Texas, and had worked as a photographer before deciding to pursue a career in music. Eventually, Muddy Magnolias got to Third Generation Records, which released their above-mentioned debut in October 2016. North left at the end of 2017. While her departure was a surprise to those following the band and no official reason was given at the time, Wilson during a November 2019 interview with NPR said she had seen it coming. Unlike Wilson who had been well accustomed to the ebbs and flows of the music business and the demands of touring, the lifestyle became too overwhelming for a married woman like North whose husband as a farmer could not accompany her on the road.

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Wilson decided to soldier on by herself. Not only that but she already had decided she wanted to work with Patrick Carney, drummer for the Black Keys. “Growing up in New York listening to hip hop…but still loving rock & roll music, I really became infatuated with the Black Keys,” Wilson told NPR. “And it was not just because it was rock music, it was music that was informed by all of the other stuff I really love. You know, when I would listen to Dan’s (Auerbach) vocals, I could hear Smokey Robinson in there. When I would listen to Patrick’s drumming, I could hear like that Wu-Tang girth, just like swag…for my ears and my taste, they were the only rock band that struck me that had like that swag, that street swag.”

Apparently, it took Wilson some time to convince Carney who initially did not appear to be impressed with her songs. But eventually, he agreed to work with her. This resulted in 11 tracks that with one exception are all co-written by Wilson, Carney and Jim McFarlin. In addition to being the producer, Carney also provides drums, bass, guitar and keyboards. McFarlin handles keyboards and backing vocals, while Wilson sings lead and backing vocals and plays keyboards. Other musicians on the album include Casey Kaufman (cello) and Steve Marion (guitar). Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the great opener Oh, Baby!

Clap Your Hands is an intriguing mix of hip hop, rock and R&B. Here’s the official video.

Waiting On… is a beautiful soulful ballad and a standout on the album. The tune is credited to an army of people who in addition to Wilson, Carney, McFarlin and Wilson’s former partner Kallie North include Luke Enyeart, Weldon Irvine, Calvin Knowles and interestingly Nina Simone. Not sure what the deal with Simone is – perhaps they sampled a part of one of her songs.

Another cool tune is aptly called Stay Cool.

Let’s do one more: Cold In the South.

Phase definitely is outside my core wheelhouse. But lately, the boundaries of that core wheelhouse have started to become a bit fuzzy. Plus, at the end of the day what really matters is whether I dig music or not.

Sources: Wikipedia; NPR; AllMusic; YouTube