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The Loop

Published: 2011/08/24
by Brandon Findlay

Joe Purdy with The Milk Carton Kids in Des Moines

Here’s a review of an older show that we wanted to share…

Photo by Jennifer Coleman, Digital

Joe Purdy, The Milk Carton Kids
5/15/2011 8:30pm;
Vaudeville Mews
Des Moines, IA
May 15

Nearly halfway through forty dates with the up & coming Milk Carton Kids, Americana singer-songwriter Joe Purdy threaded through the Midwest, weaving his way amongst friendly venues filled with the fashionably urbane and lovers of good songwriting. The experience lacked for neither by encore’s end.

In their thirty-minute opener, The Milk Carton Kids- Kenneth Pattengale and Joe Ryan- played through a six-song set that at times felt like a new generation Simon & Garfunkel raised on The Pizza Tapes. Strong flatpicked improvs from Pattengale and solid patterns by Ryan kept the crowd in swing, and the inter-song banter certainly endeared more than a few, especially on “Charlie”.

Purdy hit the stage with “Admiral’s Daughter,” off his most current effort, This American. The magic of a great singer-songwriter, whether they lean more folk or less, is that their greatness of attraction lies in direct proportion to their outward offer of gravity. And Purdy has such a charisma, though slightly obscured by soft-spoken words and a desert-dry wit.

Bringing the MCK’s back for “Pioneer” onward, Purdy began to lyrically and musically unfurl the stories of life- his or another’s, perhaps, but real-tasting all the same. Lines like “it ain’t easy to be a pioneer when the land that you move to is dry” are indicative of the Purdy flair; naturalism and moralism in degrees of sunburnt grays, never knowing if the good shall find themselves as such by song’s end.

Backing Purdy, the MCK’s ironically deliver something far more lively than their own set. With Ryan splicing a sympathetic two-step country bass with nice chromatic movement, and Pattengale on numerous melody instruments, they brought an earth-born spirit that fulfilled Purdy’s vision in a lovely way. And when Purdy turned to Pattengale for a solo, that same improvisational prowess witnessed earlier hit a faster step.

In some ways, watching this trio work together is like watching a condensed, less-energetic version of the Band. Though there is nothing as driving as “Shape I’m In” or “Cripple Creek”, Purdy and his crew tap into the same quiet rage and painful resignation that Richard Manuel or Rick Danko are still beloved for. But one doesn’t get the sense that this is contrived; instead, it’s just the natural way of his storytelling. It was easy to see his crowd found empathy here as well. The Band comparison holds forth more fruitfully as Pattengale moves forth between pedal steel, dobro, a tremolo-treated Tele, and a harmonium, letting the proper atmosphere settle in while the boss unfolds his tales- the whine behind “Oregon Trail”, the killer solos on “The Little One” being two examples.

“Ride Off on a Cloud” could have fit on Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, with the Grady Martin-esque lead guitar framing the hanging ballad . Similar traces of previous roots heroes take their turn, but they serve the song, never attracting more attention than homage.

Purdy would end up reclaiming the stage for himself, and sat down at a well-played upright for “Outlaws” and “The Sun”, and remained there once Joe and Kenneth returned. One key to keeping folk music alive is creatively envisioning the old within the new- and when Purdy segued into Norworth & Von Tilzer’s “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”, it was hard for an old Cubs fan not to smile wide.

Seeing a full house for a show that offered no histrionics, no overblown propaganda, is a hopeful sign in this age where honesty seems less respected than ever. Despite mainstream protestations, it does seem that the young and the restless are willing to enjoy a great song as its creator unveils it before their eyes- they may have heard it before, but neither technology nor media can substitute the feeling of actually experiencing it.


For more Joe Purdy photographic love, visit this gallery

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