Going old school in music is no longer an alternative to the mainstream, it is one of the commonalities found across all popular genres. It’s a symptom of an industry that is out of ideas and systematically stifles creativity. Funky R&B and the Muscle Shoals sound is the flavor of the day, even in country. This development might sound like something the old soul music listener would stand up and cheer for, but not every new artist is cut out to play old music. Most of them are downright terrible at it.
Mainstream country music stars shouldn’t fancy they possess the funkiness and soul of The Meters. That’s because music is either in your blood, or it isn’t. It’s either a sin for someone not to share it because it’s so inherent in them, or they’re just a pretender. You can’t switch the style of your music just because it’s where the trends are headed and expect to produce something lasting. It takes years of discipline and study to result in music that is truly worthwhile.
Brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum from Minneapolis, Minnesota did not sit down one day and decide that the world was hungry for the second coming of the Everly Brothers and set out to fill that gap. They conjoined their voices together in song and that’s what happened to come out. But it is the study and discipline, and the loyalty to the style that has taken them from filling a niche in neotraditional music, to now releasing an album that will stand the test of time, just like the work of their predecessors.
If there’s any knock on their sophomore release Your Dreaming, it’s that it’s almost too similar to the Everly Brothers, resulting in a mark against them on the originality scale. But even though this may sound like sacrilege to some, I’m not sure even The Everly Brothers ever put out an album this oceanic in depth and reach cover to cover.
All one had to do was see The Cactus Blossoms live to understand the potential this duo had. Part of the reason the music found such a resonant groove is because it was forged on a stage in front of people at the Turf Club in St. Paul during a now semi-famous residency. That is where the brothers discovered their sound and honed it to the reception of the audience. The brothers have released a couple of albums since their formation in 2010, including the much-coveted Live at the Turf Club, but after the release of Your Dreaming, it’s almost as if these previous releases disappeared. They can no longer be located on their website or on Spotify or other places. You have to go digging to find them. It’s because You’re Dreaming is all you need to know, and the brothers seemed to understand this will be one of those career-defining albums.
Under the wide shadow being cast by Dave Cobb and his recent producership efforts, throwback rock and roll musician and songwriter JD McPherson has been putting together one fierce run of excellent albums himself. The Cactus Blossoms were flattered when McPherson called them and wanted to make an album, and the result was magic. As much praise as you can lump on the brothers for this record, possibly McPherson and the backing band he assembled deserve praise in equal measure. The understanding and love they approach these songs with, including never encroaching on the brothers’ harmonies and getting right at the heart of the mood each composition looked to evoke, it’s shiver-inducing. Rarely has sparsity expressed so much.
A big concern heading into this album was how the brothers would find a way to demonstrate some variety with their music. Even the greatest of singing pairs can get tiresome to the ears after multiple songs of the same approach, especially when your sound is so stripped down. But You’re Dreaming is deliciously spicy and surprising in its depth of expressions. There’s the billowy love songs like “Powder Blue,” and there’s old fashioned rock and roll with the Alton & Jimmy song “No More Crying The Blues.” The album does so much with so little.
This isn’t a project that’s just all about styling either. The 10 originals of You’re Dreaming are touching, insightful, entertaining, and expression-filled. The song that might say the most is “Change Your Ways Or Die.” It feels similar to Hurray For The Riff Raff’s “The Body Electric” from a few years ago in the way that it says so much more than you think at first take, and could go one to define on of the high points in Americana for the coming year.
It feels like almost an insult, or at least a fruitless enterprise to entertain the idea that one could express in words what the harmonies of The Cactus Blossoms do for stirring the soul, so I won’t even try. But upon all the other accolades You’re Dreaming deserves, the tops might be the quality of singing evidenced, and not just in the close harmony style indicative of the Everlys and Louvins before them. Even in individual moments, both Jack Torrey and Page Burkum give such purity to the words and sounds, you have no choice but to go back 50 years to find comparisons.
A band like The Cactus Blossoms is still a niche enterprise for sure, and so the appeal won’t be felt by everyone. But the artistry is virtually unmatched, and the result is near perfection.
Two Guns Up (9/10)
– – – – – – – – – – – –