Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Cactus Blossoms at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse

photography by Kevin Yatarola
for Lincoln Center's American Songbook
Page Burkum and his younger brother Jack Torrey (Torrey adopted a stage name when he started performing professionally at age 19) publicly started playing guitar and singing together at campfires when they were youth. As young adults, the two went separate ways in their native Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Torrey played folk music and Burkum played drums in a blues band. They reunited as roommates in the late 2000s and found themselves singing along together to old folk and country music records. In 2010, they started playing those songs live and writing new songs as the Cactus Blossoms. The Cactus Blossoms' second studio album, You're Dreaming, was released on January 22, 2016.

The Cactus Blossoms headlined tonight at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse as part of Lincoln Center's American Songbook series. Backed by bassist Andy Carroll and drummer Chris Hepola, Burkum and Torrey recreated a vintage country sound that spotlighted two-man harmonies. The two vocalists occasionally alternated on singing the verses but nearly always rallied for at least the choruses, if not more. No review could neglect to compare their sound to that of similar sibling acts of the past like the Everly Brothers, the Louvin Brothers, or going even further back, the Delmore Brothers. Yes, these pristine harmonies were front and center, with the musicians adding just enough spark to ignite the drive. These vocals seemed particularly effective on sad country songs, and the Cactus Blossoms seemed to have an extensive catalogue of these. With few frills other than basic instrumentation and precise human voices, the Cactus Blossoms' capture of such rarified simplicity was uncanny.