Milk Carton Kids w/ Leslie Stevens
The Milk Carton Kids, a harmonizing, minimalist duo, use two guitars and two voices to create a new combination of back-porch Americana and classic folk. Relying on compelling narrative, the seamless interplay between their 1950's acoustics, well-constructed harmony lines which play more like counterpoint melodies, and their natural stage chemistry, TMCK have drawn in and excited sold out crowds across North America since their formation in early 2011. The serendipitous meeting between the two (Kenneth Pattengale & Joey Ryan) led quickly to a shelving of the solo careers each had been pursuing. While neither had been compelled to such collaboration with any of his peers before, an effortless musical complement, fast personal fondness, and like-minded view toward how to present the collaboration to their fans influenced the duo’s formation and, almost immediately, began drawing praise from varied sources. While press has indeed been kind to the duo, their spirit of independence compelled them to release their first two albums on their own label directly to their fans for free.
Leslie Stevens may just be the sweetheart of the rodeo. Not your traditional rodeo, mind you: this one's a traveling road show, a displaced menagerie of vintage country rock, Laurel Canyon folk and haunted gypsy jazz.
Roomful of Smoke, the new LP from Leslie Stevens and The Badgers, shuffles and swaggers to the march of a different drum. It's a glittering showcase for Leslie's pitch-perfect, honeyed croon, a lighter-than-air twang that channels Emmylou, Dolly and Neko Case in the same understated breath.
Produced by legendary studio maven David Bianco (Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Teenage Fanclub), Roomful of Smoke merges Leslie's sultry vocals and poignant lyrics with the unhurried polish of the Badgers, a crack team of musicians with studio chops and record collections to match, a versatile set of musicians equally at home with Western Swing, Texas two-step and dialed-down LA folk rock.
Born in Chicago and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Leslie began singing in her church choir, eventually migrating to Los Angeles for college, with further stays in Italy and New Mexico. Writing songs the entire time-she was in LA punk band Zeitgeist Auto Parts for a spell-Leslie later found steady work at soundtrack composer Hans Zimmer's studio in Santa Monica and provided original compositions for cult filmmaker Owen Land. Armed with a fresh batch of songs, Leslie then set out to recruit musicians who could help her realize her eclectic vision.
Roomful of Smoke begins with a lovelorn paean to the group's hometown, "Los Angeles," charting the ambitions and frustrations of life in that city, with Leslie backed by fingerpicked guitar, bowed bass fiddle and Hammond organ. On the title track, "Roomful of Smoke," they unleash the twang, venturing into driving roots rock with overdriven guitars and the occasional Fleetwood Mac melodic flourish. The band plays a different hand on the hypnotic "Old Timers," a lush, elegant gem that explores friendship and the possibility of loss. It's a fan favorite for good reason, with rich storytelling, clever imagery and a memorable chorus.
"My Tears are Wasted on You" is pure vintage Nashville gold, with Leslie delivering a vocal lead to rival other Canyon Cowgirls of late. The arrangement ebbs and flows with effortless grace, from the waltzing fiddle lines to the liquid mercury of the spot-on pedal steel.
With a sound that that transcends genre and time, Leslie Stevens and The Badgers wouldn't be out of place at the Grand Ole Opry or A Prairie Home Companion (or at renowned alternative LA venue Spaceland, for that matter). "It's Okay to Trip" sings Leslie, perhaps a subconscious nod to the round-the-world excursion of her record. This final track lands us back where we started: a meditation on human frailty and the need for redemption, a wink from a companion and a smile in the general direction of the cosmos.
See you on the other side, friend.?