Over the last year, the trio of brothers that comprise Cardinal Sons have made a name for themselves in a city that sometimes feels overcrowded with great bands. From packed shows at Gasa Gasa to a triumphant set at Jazz Fest, the band has been easily winning over fans with their infectiously catchy pop-rock stylings.
“There’s so much music every night of the week that you have be a little different to stand out,” says John Shirley, Cardinal Sons’ guitarist and primary songwriter.
These guys definitely stand out thanks to their magnetic stage presence and the type of upbeat songs that wiggle their way into your ear and echo in your head for days. The band finally got a chance to record these songs last March and will celebrate the release of the EP this Saturday at One Eyed Jack’s.
Hailing from Jackson, Mississippi, the Shirley brothers have been playing in various bands around the city since moving here to attend college. Last year, the brothers joined forces to form Cardinal Sons and quickly developed a reputation for delivering consistently great performances.
“In some cities, people are fine with going to a show and just standing there,” says Shirley. “In New Orleans, though, you really have to bring the energy as a band and get people moving if you want to survive.”
And although they’re a bona fide rock band, they have a unique sound that fits in well with the New Orleans soundscape.
“We’re very influenced by roots music,” Shirley offers. “We have a few songs that are blues-based, we incorporate some jazz chords, and we always try to bring the upbeat energy of a brass show.” Fusing these influences with the band’s love of rock and roll has produced a sound that you’d only find in NOLA: danceable indie rock with a soulful foundation.
After recording a handful of songs at the beginning of their career to get them started, Cardinal Sons adopted an approach typical of many New Orleans bands: play as much as possible, develop some great songs, and then record. All that practice paid off when the band won the NewSong Contest, an international songwriting competition that came with some valuable recording time with producer Charlie Sexton (Marc Cohn, Bob Dylan). This spring they packed up their gear and spent ten days in North Carolina recording in a converted church called Echo Mountain. The space inspired the band to really dig into the songs they had been testing on the road and lay down versions that were as close to perfect as possible. The EP’s title, “The Echo Choir,” speaks to the emotional connection the band felt to the space.
Although this is technically the band’s second record, Shirley says, “This EP feels like our first proper release. We know each other a lot better musically from playing together so much, and the production on this one is so much better than the first one.”
Shirley is right; the songs on this record seem to jump out of the speakers as the guys sing about love and loss over ringing guitars, warm synths, and thumping drums. Each song has a distinct sound, from the rollicking churn of “Day of Summer” to the sunny groove of “Casanova,” while still fitting together as a cohesive whole, thanks to the brotherly harmonies that take every song to a place few bands can reach.
With the release of “The Echo Choir,” the band will finally have a record that matches their top-notch performances. A formidable combination like that can only mean one thing: this local band won’t stay local much longer.