The Cactus Blossoms, You're Dreaming (Red House Records, 2016)
Originally published on April 3, 2016
Writing in Books and Culture, Alan Jacobs observed how "when in 1967 [Bob] Dylan retreated to a rented house in upstate New York with the group of musicians who would later be known as 'The Band,' he so deeply immersed himself in country, gospel, and blues songs that no one around him could differentiate Dylan's own work from those old tunes." The songs on You’re Dreaming are all original compositions by Jack Torrey, one half of The Cactus Blossoms duo. But, like Dylan’s Basement Tapes material, it is impossible to distinguish between Torrey’s compositions and the older songs in the country tradition they are a part of.
I am always drawn to performers who “work without a net,” who record live and let their work stand or fall on its own merits, as opposed to the wizardry of a producer and recording tricks. You’re Dreaming was recorded live and the playing is spot-on, perfectly complementing the duo’s arresting vocal harmonies. Different last names notwithstanding, Jack Torrey and Page Burkum are brothers (Jack uses his stage name), and their voices blend as only the voices of siblings can, putting them in the same league with the Everly Brothers. The slower songs, like “You’re Dreaming,” “Powder Blue,” and “Mississippi,” give their harmonies space to linger; just hearing Jack and Page sing the word “Mississippi” is a delight. Up-tempo rockabilly numbers, like “No More Crying the Blues” and “Clown Collector,” round out the collection, as does the opener, the fun-loving “Stop Light Kissing.” Some might call the music of The Cactus Blossoms retro, but that would miss the point. Like the results of Dylan’s immersion in the country, blues and gospel traditions, what the Cactus Blossoms bring is fresh and ageless.