This post was written by a past guest contributor of Country Perspective.
Often times in music, we tend to focus too much on the next big thing. Who’s advancing the sounds of yesterday? Who’s next in line to take over the musical throne? It’s certainly not a bad thing to keep track of. After all, music does have to evolve. Sometimes however, it’s best to reflect back on the history of the music that shaped the music today, as well as stay true to your roots, and that’s exactly what the brother duo The Cactus Blossoms do on their debut album You’re Dreaming.
Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota and signed to Red House Records, The Cactus Blossoms is made up of Jack Torrey and Page Burkum, two brothers who formed a duo in 2010. They got their start by playing around various venues in Minneapolis covering songs from some of their biggest influences such as The Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan. In 2013, they released a live album titled, Live At The Turf Club which garnered attention for the duo, especially for their old school approach in sound. Eventually, the brothers met up with rockabilly artist, JD McPherson who produced their newest album, You’re Dreaming. Their throwback sound stems not from the desire to “shun” new sounds, but rather because making throwback sounding music is just what the brothers love to do. As Jack and Page state, “we weren’t born in the wrong era. We just got into some music from a different era and found a way to make it our own.” After listening to You’re Dreaming, you better believe that statement is true as can be.
The album begins with “Stoplight Kisses” and right away The Everly Brothers influence is apparent. The song sounds exactly like something out of the 50’s and 60’s, and is the first of many, many times we hear the heavenly harmonies between Jack and Page. Next up is the title track. In this song, a man thinks some things to himself as he watches his lady sleep. He thinks about how he’s the luckiest man in the world to have a woman like her. He also thinks about a former lover of hers and is bothered and jealous at the fact that there’s a chance he may come back and steal her away. It often clouds his thoughts whenever he thinks of his lady. There’s a bit of mystery to this track that gives it an alluring quality (such as just how big of a role this other man plays). There’s a mellow, laid-back vibe apparent on this track that suits the brothers vocals exceptionally well, and get ready, because I’ll be using the phrase “mellow vibe” a lot for this album. This song is also rooted much more in the vein of traditional country than the pop sound of “Stoplight Kisses.” The classic country sound continues on in “Queen Of Them All”, which is a nice simple love song that is once again accentuated by the brothers delicious harmonies and mellow vocal tones. The duo switches up the sound with the rockabilly number, “Clown Collector.” This is just a really fun song about a woman who possesses the ability to have men wrapped around her finger, pleasing her every demand. My favorite line from this song is,
“Listen up man, she’s giving a lecture, she’s a clown collector”
It’s not going to punch you in the gut or anything, but I still found it quite humorous. The soothing sound of drums leads us into “Mississippi.” Once again, there’s a very mellow vibe to this track, I’d even go as far as to say sort of “beachy” sounding (or at least beach adjacent). The theme of this song is a little vague, centering around a man who goes down to Mississippi in search of something, but of what we don’t exactly know. There’s talk of an old lover, but when he talks about seeing an angel, I’m led to believe that he’s searching for something internal, like possibly his soul. It’s a very intriguing track, and with its thematic content, it sort of reminds me of Charlie Robison’s “El Cerrito Place.” “Powder Blue” is next, which lyrically is probably the weakest of the bunch, but it’s still an effective, simple love song that has a great throwback bluesy sound to it. As with every song on this album, the vocals here are soothing and pleasing to the ears.
The best songs on the album follow. “Change Your Ways Or Die” begins with a somewhat ominous, sinister guitar lead that really sets up the whole atmosphere of the song. It also has a driving beat, which I would compare to that of a train chugging along. While the other songs on this album draw influences from classic country, rockabilly and pop, “Change Your Ways Or Die” is essentially folksy in its nature. The song is centered around a man who lives his life on the run. He warns the listener that when you live like him, you have to change your ways, meaning to not stay in one place too long, or else you’ll die. It’s a really cool and very well written lyrical song that you have to hear for yourself to enjoy. “If I Can’t Win” is very reverb-heavy, and also goes back to the mellow vibe that at this point, seems to be the duo’s bread and butter. It’s a little bit country and a little bit bluesy. It’s a seemingly introspective ballad that focuses around a man who deals with the aftermath of a lover leaving him, which makes him act forlorn, often times talking to himself in an effort to cope with his new life. The emotional delivery here is superb and for that this might be the best “mellow” track here.
“No More Crying The Blues” is a cover of an Alton & Jimmy tune. This rockabilly tune is another song that is just flat-out awesome to listen to. In this song, we have a man who has finally cried out all the tears that he shed from a previous relationship. The energetic tone and delivery with which the brothers convey the song goes hand in hand with the theme of being happy again. “Adios Maria” finds the duo doing a waltz style number. The chorus has a strong melody to it that once again works for the mellow tone. The album closes with “Traveler’s Paradise.” It’s a fitting end to the album, as the man in the song leaves his town behind in search of a paradise, a better life. As he proclaims when he leaves, “he’s gone, but not forgotten.” Really, that’s how it is with the album too. It’s over, but with all of the strong songs on this album you surely won’t forget it.
A while back Country Perspective reviewed another brother duo, The Malpass Brothers. One thing that Josh noted about the duo was that they had a very retro, old-school sounding country sound. Really, that’s the same thing I think of when I hear The Cactus Blossoms, except this duo isn’t tied down to strict hardcore traditional country music, which should be evident considering the album was produced by an Americana artist. With songs that draw from country, pop, rockabilly and even a little bit of folk and blues, the brothers manage to tie all of those influences into one cohesive package with You’re Dreaming. With this album, you’ll find yourself more hooked more by the vocals and the sound than anything else, as this album features some of the best harmonies you’ll hear in all of music this year. I realize that it’s only January, but after hearing the duo I know that I won’t have to retract that statement. If I had to nitpick with this album, I would say that the duo relies on the mellow vibe a little TOO much, which makes for easy listening sure, but also can cause attention to scatter elsewhere at times. All that aside however, You’re Dreaming is an album that will make you a reminisce on a time that you were most likely not even around for, making You’re Dreaming one of the albums you have to hear this year.