This is a review of "Untitled" recorded by Cardboard Cowboy. The review was written by Sam Saunders in 2003.
I've got a lot of time for the Cardboard Brothers ... forced screamy voice notwithstanding. They are creating their own sound, and finding a genuinely distinctive corner of pop territory all of their own.
There's a confident and deliberate pace to all four songs, and a rough cheerful wholemeal simplicity to the feel of it all. The tricky loose bits and transitions that so easily leave songs stuck in mid air get decent pro treatment with special extra licks of guitar, dog howling episodes, piano runs or whatever. They work.
"Boss Hogg" has a very unpromising start with the dodgy walking bass and the screamy voice. But it gradually starts to make sense and there are lots of treasurable moments - little treats for your ears to dig out of the carefree mix, especially piano and harmonica noises that sit there like smiles in a crowd. It's very catchy too.
"Please Yourself" starts with big chords and Woodie Guthrie harmonica. It bowls along to a great chorus and a short burst of cute falsetto harmony singing. I would like the drumming to be a bit lighter and springier, but here you are, that's me. It's full of incident from start to finish, and that's the charm of this whole demo.
"Saviour on the Ceiling" has got chunks of funkiness and rockiness and echoes a New Orleans style skipping rope sort of chant (remember Shirley Ellis's Clapping Song?) It also has the lovely restrained rock geetar break and the famous dog howl. I would be inclined to re-do the vocal line with some better-directed energy. It's on the strangled side of enthusiastic.
"If It Don't Feel Like Rock and Roll ..." has a melodic softness, led by the bass and graced by the most affecting vocal on the CD. Percussion is big and thundery with a slack-tuned bass drum or floor tom in the verse and splashy cymbals that I'm not so keen on in the chorus. Tambourine might have done it better. Some sort of middle eight thing has a bit of that forced vocal. But there you are, it's Cardboard Cowboy and that's what they do. In the last verse there are some delightful guitar licks, harmonica notes and cloppy cloppy whoa trigger! moments in the percussion. And when the guitar builds it up at 3 minutes 48 with a relentless push to the big finish I'm utterly suckered. An inspired moment.
I start to ponder the Liverpool Cosmic thing, and think of a singer I've heard recently called M. Ward. There's a connection with what Rob Nichols does too. There's something in the air. Things could be coming right for this kind of fractured country-punk whossname and Cardboard Cowboy do it very well, whatever it is.