You can’t go wrong with the acoustic combo of guitar, violin, mandolin and double bass, as witnessed by the good folks of the Kitchen Garden Café this evening. Throw in a pair of gorgeous voices and a bunch of songs, both borrowed and new, and the ingredients were in place for an entertaining show by Cardboard Fox. If the name is not yet on your horizon, there may be a chance that the Carrivick Sisters is, with the link being that Laura and Charlotte form the perfect half of this quartet set to thrill the world of UK roots music. Together with Joe Tozer and John Breese, the band is rolling along in sync with the Carrivick Sisters format and likely to rise to an even higher profile over the next six months. In the run up to the debut album recording and subsequent release, Cardboard Fox are embarking on a series of UK dates and what better place to call in than the intimate surroundings Birmingham’s premier acoustic listening venue.
By paying homage to such iconic performers as Joni Mitchell, Bill Monroe, Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss and Bob Dylan, the band isn’t shy on learning from the masters and make more than a decent effort with covering popular numbers such as ‘Don’t Think Twice’, ‘Tear My Stillhouse Down’ and ‘Raised on Robbery’. The early Alison Krauss number ‘Endless Highway’ was the pick of the covers with Bill Monroe’s ‘Cry, Cry Darlin’’ being the most akin to the band’s bluegrass pretensions. However, the original compositions which surface from studio to record to stage are often the key measures of band format credence. From this angle, the band put out four new songs on their debut EP last year and the impact led to acknowledgement from Spiral Earth, one of the UK’s leading roots websites.
All four songs appeared in tonight’s set list with ‘Ego’ and ‘Green Skin’ featuring in the first half, followed by ‘Balloon’ and ‘Someone Else’s Shoes’ excelling after the break. The latter originates from the pen of mandolin player Joe Tozer, who made waves during the evening with a highly enjoyable playing performance thoroughly impressive from close quarters. It’s a pity that the unsung bass player is often last in the credits, but this is no slur on the accomplished performance of John Breese. John’s association with Laura and Charlotte goes back a while and a couple of years ago he joined the Carrivick Sisters on stage at the Maverick Festival.
Although egalitarian in projection, it is hard to argue against Laura and Charlotte being the face of Cardboard Fox. The twins take sole control of the band’s vocal output, mixing harmonies and shared lead pieces. Musically the girls are top notch with Laura injecting a countrification sound drenched in pure Appalachia via her trusty fiddle.The heady mix of solo and backing segments blend supremely with Charlotte’s guitar playing. The outstanding interaction with Joe’s mandolin added the cream to a sound thrilling folks within the café’s brickwork interior. Instrumentals such as ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Daybreak in Dixie’ were the ideal vehicle for the talent to blossom. Other songs of note to add value to the evening, and represent the breadth of their influence, were the traditional number ‘Jordan’ and a new song named ‘Believe’ earmarked for the upcoming album.
Laura, Charlotte, Joe and John are a breath of fresh air on the UK roots scene, providing a celebrated bridge between the traditional sounds of our shores and its American cousin. It was a delight to attend this show and be presented with an opportunity to promote the band from first-hand experience. Cardboard Fox already possess a memorable hook to its name and further indulging in the wares of this band will splendidly embed their music.