Cactus Blossoms @ Rough Trade NYC - 26th July 2016

Arriving at the venue to find a sparse crowd was reminiscent of some gigs in Dublin where the audience was much less than the artist merited. However by showtime the venue had filled up when the band opened with Hank Williams’ Tennessee Border. From then on however the bulk of the set came from the songs on their new album You’re Dreaming which they co-produced with JD McPherson and is a move away from the more traditional country song choices of their first two albums.
These included the title songs along with such songs as Adios Maria, Change Your Ways Or Die, Spotlight Kisses, Traveler's Paradise, Clown Collector all written by Jack Torrey as well as a Powder Blue written by his brother Page Burkam. They were ably assisted by Andy Carroll on upright bass and Chris Hepola on drums. The latter deserves a special mention for doing a great job of playing with both subtly and drive as the songs required.
However the focal point is the exquisite sibling harmonies that are a fundamental part of the music. Each took the lead for certain songs while the other added the harmony vocal, or else they sang together in a way that few outside of siblings can. It was a simple, direct and pleasing sound that is a modern take on the many brother duos of the past - The Everly Brothers would immediately spring to mind on hearing them. But much as that duo updated the sound of the past so the Cactus Blossoms do today.
It is also apparent that they listen to a wide range of music outside of the more traditional when they cover the Kinks' song Who’ll Be The Next In Line towards the end of the show. The Muswell Hillbillies fitted right in - as any good songs would. Other covers included another British Invasion related choice with The Beatles This Boy as well as Waylon Jennings' Only Daddy Who Walked The Line
Throughout there was some banter between the band and the audience with them noting that although the soundcheck was fun that ”they couldn’t have done it without you” and also thanking the audience members who danced upfront. That some think that only the country audience dance was a misnomer they noted with appreciation. A round of drinks send onto the stage elicited the comment that they had (stated with tongue in cheek I suspect) never drunk whiskey before! They also gave a shout out to the music of their home town and state Minneapolis/Minnesota and to two of its better know exponents - Bob Dylan and Prince.
It was a great night’s entertainment with good humour and solid playing. Torrey’s electric guitar was seemingly simple but very effective even if he was self depreciating about it during the show. His brother Tyler he told us had recently been playing lead guitar with them on some dates. But in the end it is the combination of the songs and those voices that are the stars of the show - if you think you’ve heard better could be you’re dreaming.

Review by Stephen Rapid  Photography by Kaethe Burt-O'Dea