The New Record From Minneapolis Brothers The Cactus Blossoms ‘Easy Way’ Reviewed: The Band’s New Music For The First Time in Three Years!
The Cactus Blossoms are Minneapolis brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum. If the name they’ve chosen to perform under sounds like something from a bygone era, then that would also be a fair reflection of their creative output. Vintage, retro, throwback, classic – all words you could use to describe the style of their music. But they’re not a tribute act or a copycat band. While they draw their inspiration from the sounds of the past, they combine it with contemporary themes to deliver something familiar yet fresh. They’ll happily use period instruments, for example, but they’re not prisoners to them. “Easy Way” is the follow up to 2016’s successful “You’re Dreaming”. For the new album Jack and Page have taken on the producer role themselves, and there’s a clear development in their sound. Where “You’re Dreaming” had a very clean sound reminiscent of the late 50’s or early 60’s, “Easy Way” has more of a shimmer to it, a hazy and at times almost dreamy feel that’s closer to mid 60’s period America.
“Desperado” opens the album. It starts with just a strumming guitar for a few bars, and then the voices come in, then a little percussion…. The track steadily builds its arrangement, it feels like a bunch of friends have met together for a jam and each one joins in when they’re ready to add to the song. I don’t mean for that to sound like it’s just been thrown together; more that it feels like a group of people relaxed in each other’s company and making great music together. It’s a feel that that runs throughout the album, and it feels great – it’s a really refreshing vibe they’ve managed to capture.
The Cactus Blossoms are often compared to the Everly Brothers – you only have to hear them sing to know why. The second track on the album, “I’m Calling You”, could easily have been one of Phil & Don’s lighter sounding numbers, which contrasts with its darker lyrical theme. “Too late for drinkin’, too soon for coffee/ I’ve been up for a few/Five o’clock in the morning/And I’m calling you”, as the protagonist struggles with loneliness and dark places of the soul in the hours before dawn. The sound changes again with track 3, “Please Don’t Call Me Crazy”, with its opening guitar riff all shimmer, edge and distortion leading into this heavier, rockier number. It’s a strong, impactful and most of all catchy song that was understandably selected as the lead-off single from the album. It reminds me a little of some of Marty Stuart’s recent work too.
“Got A Lotta Love” is a hazy, laid back song helped in part by the addition of an organ down in the mix beneath a clean electric lead guitar, with a rhythm like a horse’s steady trot and a matching clip-clop percussion track. The brothers’ vocals are often just behind the beat, accentuating the whole held-back, take your time mood of the song. The album’s title track, “Easy Way”, slows things down further. Saxophone (from jazz saxophonist Michael Lewis) and what sounds like a vibraphone in the arrangement give things a slightly jazzy feel, and it’s all underpinned by a languid waltz-time beat. Jack and Page switch their voices from harmony in the verses to an overlapping layering in the chorus. Where the verse has quite an open, roomy sound, the chorus rises euphorically in comparison as if to drive home the sentiment in the lyric, “Love is here to stay/ Love won’t go away”
As you go through the album you pick up all kinds of references in the instrumentation and arrangements. There’s a little of Roger McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker sound in the bridge in “Downtown”. “Boomerang”, the longest track on the album, has room for 2 distinct guitar solos – the first has a Duane Eddy, right down in your boots twang, while the second is more of a bright, George Harrison kind of sound. I get the impression that the brothers enjoyed trying a little of this here, a little of that over there, just finding out for themselves how to pick up some recognisable styles and sounds and adapting them to their own. They’ve done a great job. It all just…works.
“See It Through” is probably my favourite song on the album. The tempo, the groove, the vocal phrasing, the harmonies, the lyrical theme… It’s just a lovely song, and the pedal steel and electric guitars combine beautifully. “I Am The Road” has a Don Williams style to it (think “I Recall A Gypsy Woman”), while the track that closes the album, ”Blue As The Ocean”, has shades of the Beatles’ “This Boy” or, more recently, REM’s “Everybody Hurts”.
I like this album. I like it a lot. If you want a new workout soundtrack for the gym then you’d better jog on, because this isn’t it. “Easy Way” is a wonderfully evocative collection of songs whose lyrics at times contrast with the more innocent times in which the sounds are rooted. When an album is described as “sparse” it tends to indicate a very simple arrangement and while that was largely true of the previous album, and effectively so, “Easy Way” manages to build on and develop the sound but without it ever becoming busy or cluttered. The combination of Jack and Page’s voices fits the music like a glove. They’ve managed to produce an album that’s retro, but not slavishly so. It’s throwback, but not throw-away; it echoes the past without becoming pastiche. “Easy Way” is a delight from start to finish.
2.I’m Calling You
3. Please Don’t Call Me Crazy
4. Got A Lotta Love
5. Easy Way
8. See It Through
9. I Am The Road
10. Blue As The Ocean
See It Through, Please Don’t Call Me Crazy, Got A Lotta Love
Six Shooter Rating
9 out of 10