A hard-working rock critic recently posted on social media that he had just signed a contract to write a new book about the Everly Brothers. He was looking for sources of information about the two men, their lives, and music. He should contact the Minneapolis duo, the Cactus Blossoms. As far as I know, the two brothers (Jack Torrey and Page Burkum) do not have any personal stories about the Everlys. However, the Cactus Blossoms clearly base their sound on the harmonies of the Everly Brothers. That’s just as true today on their third release, One Day, as it was when they self-released their debut album, The Cactus Blossoms, back in 2011. They could help explain such things as what it means when the Everlys chose to drop their voices to express emotion on one line and follow it by raising their tone to a higher place the next.
Sure, Don and Phil had great voices, but a large part of what separated them from other vocal harmony duos from the era was how their voices blended, often in surprisingly beautiful and unexpected ways. The Cactus Blossoms have somehow intuited this magic. The Twin City siblings aren’t copycats. They write original music that captures the country-folk-pop spirit of the Everlys without mimicking the originals. The Everlys’ influence is evident and deliberately pronounced even though specific references to particular songs are minimal.
From the first utterance of “Hey baby” that begins the record, the Cactus Blossoms magically travel to that timeless place where innocence and experience coexist in the front seat of a car moving through the heart of America. They travel the interstate of broken dreams and the promise of a better future on 11 songs about lonely hearts, future love, and what happens in between. The narrators look forward and back to understand their situation, but often they don’t reach clarity. The Minnesota brothers use their separate voices to express different perspectives and then blend them together to show how it’s just two sides of the same coin.
“I know I’m not the only one,” they sing together. That awareness of being alone when with others brings comfort as well as alienation. They use their voices to deepen the emotional content. Several of the tracks suggest the narrator could break down and cry at any time. The sound of the songs suggests a sort of contentment with the way things are.
Jenny Lewis guests on “Everybody”. The female voice functions to remind one that everyone is lonely and wants connection. The song reeks of quiet desperation in a strange way. The lovers feel alone even when they are together and feel most together when they are by themselves. The lyrics of this song and others can be purposely vague (“We’ve seen ourselves at last / In bits of broken glass / We really have come so far / To even get to where we are”) but can also be richly poetic (“The city is a prairie / that combs its hair / shaves its face”).
Torrey wrote the songs (several of them Burkum cowrites), different from the Everly’s, who did not pen their material. There are other significant distinctions between the two acts. However, one cannot listen to the Cactus Blossoms without purposely being reminded of the Everly Brothers. If the Minnesota band continues to produce good music, the opposite may be true down the line.