This is a review of "Shorthand For Love" recorded by Cardboard Cowboy. The review was written by Lauren Strain in 2005.
I often think I’d like to marry a harmonica. They’re neat, compact, shiny little things; you can use them as liberally or minimally as you wish and they make all the right noises.
Cardboard Cowboy do this quite well. Commencing with ‘Lady Brown’, we have the sounds of birds, muffled rumbling and more birds; a plum and wonderfully-glum double bass lithely swimming beneath the currents of shimmied, strummed lightness, stumbling and twirling under the smoking lights. We then hear a creaky, wheezy door and a smattering of recorded laughter infectious enough to paste a smile on any listener’s face before ‘I’m Not Sleeping’ shuffles in like a lazy day in a nodding cornfield with the soft, humming buzz of said instrument to which I am spouse mumbling like a bumble bee intoxicated with aromatic honey. It’s a teetotal, gentle country twang giving room for something a little huskier in the form of ‘Kid Koala’, the well-worn woollen rug of Dave’s vocals sounding frayed about the edges, a gruff sandpaper to the midnight-hour slack jack guitar. We soon veer away from the mid-western lasso-ing, however, with the simply insistent ‘When I Set Sail’, in which great, earthy clods of piano, plippy-ploppy bits of noise and machinistic drums build towards an almost electro-tastic finale; and not a silver thing making a squeaky wah-wah noise in sight.
‘Condoleeza’ peers coyly around a doorframe into the dilapidated drawing room where a beautiful but plainly-dressed princess-turned-pauper-girl sits at the old baby grand, tinkling out a short, remembered memory of a melody. There’s a sad refinement, a forlorn exquisiteness, a fallen beauty here. Although, here and there, we meet moments of plodding, piano-stool regularity, for the most part ‘Shorthand For Love’ luxuriously oozes an amber nectar gloop of leather boots, chipped bar glasses and the ingrained aroma of malt and hops. They may well have their own miniature, reverberating anthem and balletic ballad on their hands in the form of ‘Helicopters’ as it ricochets about with growly, broody electric guitars.
We don’t have ranches around here, as far as I know, but I reckon Cardboard Cowboy found themselves a farm somewhere and, during their stay, collected lots of lovely grassy, muddy sounds in a jar and used them to create an album; an album which blends snoozed, humid, hazy atmospheres with twinges of blue and crumbling, bare walls. All in all, it’s a bundle of glinting, whiskey-bottle guitars and haywains rolling with tradition. Mmm.