Wrapped Up In The Mystery

I prefer disorientation when it comes to music. I live to be deceived, and would far rather be seduced than have anything explained. –Joe Henry

The above quote comes from the forward to the newest album by folk-pop duo The Milk Carton Kids. That album is called Prologue, and it is acoustic harmony MAGIC for my brain. Joe Henry, for those not in the know, is a journeyman singer-songwriter and well respected producer. He was speaking of the way The Milk Carton Kids’ two singer/songwriters Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan have a way of blending together into one sweet cloud of music. For Henry, their voices and guitars swirl together into this mysterious third thing that makes it hard to separate the two musicians. I couldn’t agree more. As I sit in my office typing, my computer speakers are singing in near-perfect stereo and it is truly beautiful and hypnotizing.

My friend Deric brought this band to my attention this morning, and pointed me to their bandcamp page, as I do now. I played the first song, and immediately sent Deric a message. “This is the kind of music I wanted to make when I first started, like 10 years ago,” I wrote. It wasn’t until I pushed ‘enter’ that I realized what the The Milk Carton Kids really reminded me of: Gillian Welch’s and Dave Rawling’s Time (The Revelator) which of course came out ten years ago, in July of 2001. I was just a kid, about to start college, confused and insecure and completely unprepared for what was about to happen to me. Time (The Revelator) was a revelation to my ears, and a comfort to my soul. You’d be hard-pressed to find another album that is so spare and honest, yet so surreal and mysterious.

When I was a child, I was hypnotized by my parents’ old records. As an 11 year old homeschool kid, a song like Paul Simon’s Duncan was an entirely foreign land to my ears. Repeated listens led to more questions, which led to more records. When I was 13, putting on Stairway to Heaven was a harrowing experience, practially like a psychedelic trip for my young mind. As I grew up, my longing to understand the sounds that had transformed me so led me to study music in college. Music Theory made perfect sense to me. I began to listen to everything with an analytical perspective. I would follow the chord changes, the bass movement, and conceptualize the melody lines in my head until I knew what they were. It seems probable that as I was gaining music knowledge, I was also losing something as a listener.

Joe Henry’s words really resonate with my experiences. I got into music because listening to it completely mystified me. Whatever I put into my brain was like an alternate reality that I could explore, full of awe and wonderment. For a while, that awe and wonderment faded to a degree. It became a math problem, it became a job, a burden. Yes I still loved it but I wasn’t listening with the open ears of a child, I was filtering and assuming, inhibiting my own enjoyment. I don’t want to be that way anymore. I don’t want to listen from the stance of a person who thinks he’s got it all figured out, but from someone who’s still wrapped up in the mystery of the music. So thanks Deric, thanks Milk Carton Kids, thanks Joe Henry, for reminding me of that. Happy New Year everyone.

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    photo of  Luke Leverett
    New Braunfels, Texas Phone: 830-708-5883