Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 10 Country, Folk & Blues Albums

7. The Milk Carton Kids
The Ash & Clay

The rise of Los Angeles duo Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan seems abrupt, considering they only formed in 2011. Yet, they have already released three albums, the last and greatest of which found a home on the esteemed Anti- Records. They've also toured with the likes of k.d. lang and Old Crow Medicine Show, and their style speaks to a classic folk lineage dating back generations, from the Everly Brothers to Gillian Welch, so it feels more like destiny than the chance win in genre roulette for which many new artists hope.

The Ash & Clay is defined by a clean acoustic sound, two early '50s guitars doing battle, over which the duo's heartstring-plucking harmonies deliver wistful lyrics laced with nostalgic melancholy, political fervour, colourful storytelling and a subtle sense of humour. Ryan ends up playing support for much of the record, his personality coming to the fore more in his wry, deadpan banter when they perform live, but his selflessness on these recordings forms a base that helps to bring the undeniable genius of Pattengale into greater relief.

The subtle magic of Pattengale's nimble guitar work is all over this album, threading the line between jaw-dropping skill and tear-jerking emotion in his teased out solos on "Years Gone By" and "Memphis," and burning down the barn on "Honey, Honey" and "Heaven." With The Ash & Clay, the Milk Carton Kids show they have the lyrical poetry and performance prowess to challenge the likes of Simon & Garfunkel. They're that good. (Alan Ranta)