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With so few national hits to their name, despite a fairly long and artistically rewarding career, fans of The Cardinals might have trouble reaching a consensus when it comes to choosing their favorite sides.

Those few charted hits may get the most attention as you’d expect, if only for familiarity’s sake, but vocal group fans are notoriously provincial when it comes to the type of record that speaks to them.

Some favor the pop slanted ballads, others the racier uptempo sides, while there are those factions who will seek out complex vocal arrangements, deeper lyrics or indellible melodies.

With The Cardinals you get all of the above to pick between which may explain why in their own era no dominant style emerged from the group. That diversity arguably made their records more interesting, even it made them less commercial.

If this one is among your choices for a top cut, you probably aren’t alone, even if you also probably won’t get quite enough to agree with that choice to make it a must-hear side.


I Can Tell By Your Actions
Though all three of their hits spanning six years were romantic ballads you have to give The Cardinals credit for mixing things up from the very start.

Unlike their closest stylistic competitors (and fellow Baltimore group), The Orioles who stuck almost exclusively to the same slow pace, stark accompaniment and thematic ideas on both sides of every single for years, much to their detriment, The Cardinals were experimenting with different approaches with good results.

Their ballads led by Ernie Warren were definitely Orioles influenced, but on records like Pretty Baby Blues they strayed extremely far from that source, using the full group to deliver the song with prominent band support making it seem practically like another act when compared to the yearning ballad, I’ll Always Love You, on the top side.

Which is why it’s so discouraging that they couldn’t be rewarded for these attempts to step outside their specialty. Not only would it signal to the rest of the rock universe that it was beneficial to cast a wide stylistic net, but it’d also improve the group’s chances at becoming seen as vital artists in a crucial transitional era of rock, rather than being reduced to something of an afterthought with just a few far-flung and sporadic best sellers.


You’re Always Right, I’m Always Wrong
A prancing piano and drums leading into the full group joining in on the shared vocals sets this apart immediately from the rest of The Cardinals early efforts.

The tempo is quicker and with it the attitude is more aggressive and not surprisingly the subject matter reflects these changes as this finds the group chastising a girl for her misdeeds rather than fawn all over her for her mild interest in them.

Even the title is a dig at her, as they’re almost mocking her by constantly calling her “pretty baby” and then lay into her with a series of accusations that range from seeking a romantic replacement to spending all of their money.

Clearly they’re hurt by these actions, something which is revealed in the bridge where they use bass voice to convey their dismay over these turn of events rather than to really ramp up the disgust.

The others are sticking by him during all of this, chiming in with more upbeat wordless vocal riffs behind him, but this is also where Pretty Baby Blues goes off the rails somewhat. Though the larger concept is good, both in terms of the subject matter and perspective as well as the vocal and instrumental arrangement, the story isn’t sharp enough to really hook us.

The complaints seem justified, the switch from scorn to hurt is certainly understandable, and the technique they use to put this across is technically proficient, but the details aren’t vibrant enough to make much of an impression.

It’s a pastiche more than a fleshed out narrative and while it’s well sung with a solid arrangement, it’s really not that memorable unto itself.

Somebody’s Been Talking To You
Maybe that comes across as a little harsh, which is unfair.

This is a solid record that sounds good every time you play it, so it’s definitely above average, but to get to that next level a song has to stick in your mind and be able to be conjured up on the jukebox in your brain on command and this can’t quite do that.

You admire their attempt to change things up, you appreciate their skill in being able to execute their parts as well as they do, you may even give a nod of recognition for a quirky line or two that sticks out along the way, but Pretty Baby Blues is still a by-the-numbers affair by design.

You definitely want to reward them for taking a different approach, something more acts should try doing come to think of it, and rather than struggle to find their footing on it stylistically they manage to pull it off with a fair amount of grace, so you can’t really find fault with it.

But nor can you find too much to lavishly praise beyond that. It’s yet another song written by blues artist Tampa Red, who’s had a number of songs of his turned into rockers as of late, but while he was certainly in tune with rock in a broader sense, this isn’t something that would get you to think he had missed his calling when it came to which type of music to pursue. In fact it’s The Cardinals arrangement of the song which is its highlight and while that alone definitely makes us want to hear them try more in this vein, the record ultimately stands out because it’s atypical for them, not because of anything innovative contained within.

Still, it’s more than good enough to be a welcome presence in their catalog, but if you’re one who rates this a lot higher than that I’d be curious to know if you could sing it back a day or a week after last hearing it. That’s a question that never has to be asked about the truly great songs in rock history because those are guaranteed to remain etched in your consciousness until you cease to exist.

This one will fade from memory soon after the needle lifts out of the groove… enjoyable only while it lasts.


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