I’m often surprised that more country music acts haven’t attempted to emulate Phil and Don Everly; but perhaps in the great library of American music they are untouchable. Nevertheless there is one band from Minnesota who has not only embraced the Everly Brothers beautiful sound, they’ve carefully made it their own. The Cactus Blossoms have taken a huge musical risk on their first album for Red House Records called, You’re Dreaming. Their harmonies are so much like the Everly Brothers it’s uncanny, but after getting to know their music, you realize this is not simple imitation by a long-shot, nor is it a tribute.
The Cactus Blossoms is a five-piece band with vocals by (brothers) Jack Torrey and Page Burkum. Their album of original songs harkens back to an era in American music that was about telling a great story filled with redemption and personal pain. The brothers honed their craft by spending many hours in a St. Paul coffee house performing the Country Songbook, songs every serious vocalist should know. On You're Dreaming, which is only their second album, The Cactus Blossoms take all that musical history and tell their own stories of the human condition. “Change your ways and die,” sing Torrey and Burkum with warnings that “A sip of whiskey gets your toes wet, If you dive too deep you get caught in a net.”
The two songs best emulate the Everly Brothers sound, namely “If I Can't Win” and “Clown Collector” come closest to the lost love and relationship stories oft told, convincingly, by Phil and Don. The latter track could easily be a sequel to “Cathy's Clown” with its story of a controlling woman who’s “never wrong, no one can correct her … Listen up man, she's a clown collector.” The Everly Brothers had more sympathy for the victim of scorn in their song, but The Cactus Blossoms learn from their experience and heed their own warning.
You're Dreaming is full of great guitar hooks and bridges creating an irresistible 11 tracks. The up-tempo songs are especially strong too. After listening to the album a few times, the sound of the band emerges as genuine rather than imitative. The songs take on a more distinct shape as the music helps define the stories Burkum and Torrey want to tell. By mining into the wealth of country music written and recorded since 1945, The Cactus Blossoms have adopted a familiar sound and advanced it by writing good, cliché-free songs. The first single is "Stoplight Kisses".
[A version of this review was first published on criticsatlarge on February 24, 2016]