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In the course of human events we’ve been able to figure out a lot of things in the fields of science and technology that seemed all but impossible even just a century ago, yet for all of our supposed intelligence we have yet to make sense of one basic human emotion…


It baffles us, primarily because it doesn’t seem to follow any consistent rules. We’re elated when we fall in love, yet when it doesn’t go quite the way we envisioned from the start it has a tendency to make us far more miserable than if we simply had never met the person we’re obsessed with and instead remained alone for eternity.

Yet this confusion has arguably lent itself to more great music than any other topic ever because we’re all equally frustrated by the ups and downs of the entire process. We never tire of the subject because in spite of a near constant risk of heartbreak we keep trying to find that one true love, for we know that if that we do there’s nothing like it in the world that can possibly compare to the joy it will bring.


My Happiness All Depends On You
Just what you’ve come to a rock history website for… a breakdown on the intricacies of love from someone who may not know what the hell he’s talking about.

Then again maybe I do.

Anyway, the point isn’t to make sense of it all, since that’s impossible, but rather explain its unique hold on the human psyche and how music, maybe because it’s forcibly condensed into two or three minute broad narratives with melodic ambiance to enhance the experience, has served as a cathartic outlet when the real thing gets us down.

It helps to remember that the feeling of love is a non-verbal reaction to someone who instantly captures your attention. Maybe it’s the way they look – love at first sight and all that – or the way they carry themselves or the setting you find yourself in that first stirs those feelings.

But whatever caused the spark it’s inevitable that these feelings will quickly become more intense the more you see them. Locking eyes momentarily… a smile… the first time you hear their voice… finding out what you have in common.

Soon you’re head over heels in love which means you’re REALLY in trouble now because whereas before their interest, or lack thereof, didn’t mean much to you since you had nothing invested in them, once your heart tells you that you need them to feel fulfilled there’s countless pitfalls to watch out for. None are necessarily going to permanently derail you in your quest for them, but unfortunately it never seems that way at the time.

What you really want to do is just cut to the chase and put your feelings into words, hoping your heartfelt declarations of love will be enough to win them over. We don’t DO that of course because it’s too weird in real life, but doing so in a song is another matter altogether. Then we take that non-verbal feeling and translate it into poetic lyrics of devotion which together with the music, the singing and – crucially – the detachment of the listener from the characters portrayed in the song, makes a record about expressing love a suitable stand-in for your own thoughts and feelings.

The Cardinals do this with a directness on I’ll Always Love You that is disarming, putting their heart on the line, exposing their vulnerabilities in the process and framing it with such delicate musical touches that it surely will lead many in the audience to think that this is the way to go in their own lives… even if they can’t sing and don’t have a band to back them up as they tell their beloved their deepest thoughts.

Who knows, maybe it’d work if you did. But if you aren’t up to trying this when there are actual real life consequences should it fail, spinning this record will have to suffice.


If You Don’t Believe Me
The first sound we hear, that of a shimmering guitar unwinding in halting fashion, is an ideal start to a record about uncertainty. It sets a delicate mood that mirrors Ernie Warren’s tentative approach to his revelation, almost as if you can sense he’s unsure of his decision to empty his heart out like this, but he knows that it might be the only way he can dispense with the ambiguity that we all put into each exchange with a prospective partner.

It’s a risky move of course but it seems a lot more natural to do on record because this is a performative art by nature and one with plenty of precedents in rock ‘n’ roll… most notably on fellow Baltimore rock vocal group The Orioles from which I’ll Always Love You draws definite inspiration.

The first few bars of Warren’s vocals are perfectly executed, building anticipation with his strongest tone as if to try and quell his own doubts before he breaks down just a little as the line comes to a close, which may not be quite the dynamic payoff we’re hoping for but probably fits the narrative better because there’s no way he’s going to be so confident in declaring his feelings for this girl in such an open fashion.

But once the words start pouring out they’re hard to stop and he manages to touch all of the bases in the process, highlighting the fact that his own missteps are the result of the dormant insecurities he has regarding her true feelings for him. That self-doubt of course is the root cause of at least half of all relationship issues early on and Warren’s decision to draw attention to it rather than hope to conceal it shows he’s incredibly self-aware if nothing else.

Whether or not the girl wants to hear this is another matter altogether. Sometimes it’s best to not give someone too much to think about, to show that you’ve really thought it through to this extent, but in the context of a record it works because it’s honest and relatable to all but the most hardhearted of people.

The other Cardinals who were maybe the one weak point of their stellar debut, Shouldn’t I Know, have stepped up their game here and are contributing some sublime wordless harmonies throughout. Where they really shine is in the bridge which finds them trading off lines in a far more declaratory fashion than Warren allowed himself to do.

The fact it’s so unique – usually it’s just one other voice that takes the lead during these sections – draws your attention, but what truly holds that attention is their ramping up the emotional stakes which allows Warren to ease off in his own delivery when he returns to act as a dramatic contrast, closing things out with an aching plea with all the hope he can muster.

It may not have the desired effect in real life where you’re always reliant on somebody else’s unscripted response, but you sure can’t fault the effort.


It’s When I Doubt Your Love That I Act Like A Fool
As well done as this is on a technical level, there’s still those nagging comparisons to The Orioles to take into account.

In some ways this is sort of The Cardinals version of Tell Me So, both musically and thematically, so we have no choice but to deduct something for the lack of originality in that regard, but it’s carried out so well that we can be a little more forgiving than normal.

The bigger question here however is an existential one, that of the practicality of the methods used on I’ll Always Love You when it comes to bearing your soul at all.

In matters of love we’re conditioned to withhold the very information that we ourselves want to hear from someone we desire. To conceal the depth of your feelings until the other one commits to expressing them first. To play coy, to pretend to not be affected by what someone thinks of you – or if they think of you at all – and to protect our hearts by closing them off to the person we want until we’re sure they want us too.

Maybe that’s why so many relationships are bound to fail. Our instincts are often based on fear, not on seeking happiness and we’re more concerned with not losing our perceived upper hand than in winning the devotion of someone who you’re meant to be with by being completely honest and forthright with them from the start.

Maybe that’s also why we look to shed those self-imposed obstacles in our music so that for a brief time while we listen to these songs we can imagine what it would be like to go through life without having to always guard the very thing we yearn to be able to give freely.


(Visit the Artist page of The Cardinals for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)