By Pat Moran
On You’re Dreaming, the Cactus Blossoms’ second release and Red House debut, Minnesotan brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum draw from heirloom music—foothills country before it went Nashville and rock before it lost its roll—to craft contemporary tunes that capture the fresh-faced vigor of their models.
Torrey and Burkum’s tight, imprinted-in-the-bloodline harmonies soar as sweetly at the Everly Brothers’ and tumble as vertiginously at the Delmores’, but smooth fraternal vocals are not the only tool in the Cactus Blossoms’ kit. Both brothers play guitars from the same era as their inspirations. Burkum’s 1960s Harmony Sovereign is a versatile rhythm machine, ambling and honeyed on the lilting title track, silvery and snapping on the smart-aleck Buddy Holly-inspired rocker “Clown Collector,” and tumbling like a waterwheel on the lushly romantic travelogue “Mississippi.”
Torrey plays his 1950s Silvertone archtop unplugged for most of this album. On the languid roadhouse ballad “Powder Blue,” his coiled picking snakes sinuously through Burkum’s plangent glissandos, and the Tex-Mex–flavored cowboy lament “Adios Maria” is carried aloft by the cantina canter of Torrey’s archtop.
The core of each uncluttered arrangement was cut live, so each tune crackles with the energy of players together in one room. Joel Patterson’s tremolo-drenched 1950s Gibson electric is ladled over much of the album, adding spectral reverb to the heartsick ballad “Queen of Them All,” a Chuck Berry-styled whoop and zoom to the skiffle beat country of “Stoplight Kisses,” and a descending locomotive wail to the urgent and chugging “Change Your Ways or Die.”
On You’re Dreaming, the Cactus Blossoms revitalize music from the dawn of rock and country for a contemporary audience, and celebrate an era before genre boundaries calcified, and when possibilities seemed endless.
Watch the Cactus Blossoms perform a note-perfect “You’re Dreaming” for the free-form New Jersey/New York radio station WFMU from April 18, 2015.