The Cactus Blossoms
(with Junco Shakers)
Rhythm n Roots, Poole
Victoria Education Centre, Lindsay Road, Poole
Tuesday 17th January, 19.30
Corrections to names / song titles very welcome!
The Cactus Blossoms
Jack Torrey – vocal, electric guitar
Page Burkum – vocals, acoustic guitar
Chris Hepple – drums
Andy Brown – acoustic bass
You’re Dreaming (Jack Torrey)
Tennessee Border (Hank Williams)
Clown Collector (Jack Torrey)
Who’ll Be The Next In Line (Ray Davies)
A Little Unfair (Hank Cochran: Lefty Frizell cover)
Brown Eyed Handsome Man (Chuck Berry)
Mississippi (Jack Torrey)
Change Your Ways Or Die (Buffalo Song) (Jack Torrey)
Queen of Them All (Jack Torrey)
A Sad Day To Be You (Jack Torrey)
Uncle John’s Bongos ( Johnny & Jack: Johnny Mercer & Jack Teagarden cover)
Happy Man On A Gloomy Day (Jack Torrey)
Crazy Arms (Patsy Cline cover)
Powder Blue (Page Burkum)
Down South In New Orleans (Bobby Charles)
Adios Maria (Jack Torrey)
No More Crying The Blues (Alton Lott-Jimmy Harrell)
(Like You Do With Me ?)
If I Can’t Win (Jack Torrey)
This Boy (Lennon-McCartney)
Traveler’s Paradise (Jack Torrey)
Stoplight Kisses (Jack Torrey)
Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line (Waylon Jennings)
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (Hank Williams)
SEE OFFICIAL VIDEO OF “STOPLIGHT KISSES”: (linked)
What was this? An American group who had been awarded 4 stars by Mojo, AND was one of the albums of the year, playing a new venue only half a mile away from my home? I looked on line and they’re playing the Bullingdon in Oxford too this week, and we already have tickets to see Margo Price there on Friday. This was so exciting that I ordered their latest album, You’re Dreaming in advance of the gig.
The first thing everyone thinks from the sibling vocal blend is “Ding!” The Everly Brothers. The Louvin Brothers or The Stanley Brothers might be closer than The Everlys with the country material choices.
Sounding like the Everly Brothers is the trend. Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones did it on Little Windows with all new songs in 2016. In 2013, Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong recreated The Everly Brothers album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. The same year Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie Prince Billy did some rarer covers on What The Brothers Sang. Those were all male / female duos, but The Cactus Blossoms take us back to Don & Phil: two men. Again, it’s in the vocal style, not covers. Those of us (me, Paul McCartney & Paul Simon) who believe the Everly Brothers were one of THE most important acts of the era are vindicated.
But The Cactus Blossoms don’t do any Everlys songs, and are more traditional country so less “Appalachian folk” than early Everly Brothers, and anyway it’s an eclectic set that runs from Hank Williams and Lefty Frizell via Patsy Cline to Jack and Johnny’s Uncle John’s Bongos then to Chuck Berry’s Brown-Eyed Handsome Man to the New Orleans rhumba sound of Bobby Charles Down South In New Orleans to an obscure Kinks song Who’ll Be The Next In Line to a classic Beatles B-side, This Boy.
Most of it is original and they played all eleven songs from their current album, You’re Dreaming too. Three of the songs are remakes of their 2012 debut album (Adios Maria, Stoplight Kisses, Traveler’s Paradise).
The Cactus Blossoms are two brothers from Minneapolis, and I hope I got the names of their superb rhythm section right. Great drummer (nice to see a Gretsch kit … I remember setting those up) and acoustic bass player. Jack plays electric guitar, Page plays acoustic guitar. I tried to find details of Jack’s tiny electric guitar on line, and it is an early 1950s National guitar, with Page playing a 1951 National flattop. They like vintage guitars … on YouTube, Jack has a Silvertone.
iPhone photo / lo-res
They both take lead vocals on different songs (Jack takes more), but their trademark is the vocal blend. Sorry to keep harking back to the Everly Brothers, who I saw three times, but I haven’t heard that magic blend since. Don & Phil claimed it was a vocal resonance through being brothers. They might be right.
They opened with You’re Dreaming the title track of their current album, which is a song that creeps right into you with the cooing vocals … a gently surprising starter (most bands start uptempo) but a perfect choice. There are some fine lyrics in there too:
I’m painting my jealousy
My hands are shaking, my brush is slipping
And the red paint’s dripping to the floor …
Rose petals are all I need
Just like picking cotton
It can make you bleed.
The Hank Williams cover Tennessee Border was followed by Clown Collector – there is no melodic connection, but I couldn’t help thinking of Cathy’s Clown.
Who’ll Be The Next in Line is a Kinks song, an odd one too. It’s obscure in the UK as the B-side of the comparative flop, Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy, though I know it from the Françoise Hardy cover on En Anglais … we are getting truly esoteric now. Apparently they flipped the single in the USA, and it was a decent hit (US #34).
Not many bands go (or even “can go”) from Ray Davies to a Lefty Frizell song, but they did with A Little Unfair.
Brown-Eyed Handsome Man reminded me of the Buddy Holly version (obviously) rather than Chuck Berry’s original, but while I have heard most of the Chuck Berry favourites live over the years, I don’t think I heard this one.
Mississippi is another powerful and dreamy original. My companion’s earworm of the evening was Change Your Ways Or Die (The Buffalo Song), and with the long sustained vocal notes and the prickly lead guitar fills it’s a contender for the song to sample from the album.
Queen of Them All was the third one from the album in a row. Those first chords sound Everlys too, and the vocal blend here is one of the closest to early Don & Phil.
The last song of the first set was another original, this time from the first album, A Sad Day To Be With You, so the first time I’ve heard it. Classic country.
A short interval, before the second set, which opened with Uncle John’s Bongos a 1961 American hit. I wondered idly of the title inspired Uncle John’s Band … Jerry Garcia knew his country and bluegrass.
Happy Man On A Gloomy Day had an unexpected Caribbean lilt to it, rather different from the YouTube sessions from 2013. I think it’s improved it.
Crazy Arms is a phew, if you’re doing country covers, go for the really big ones.
It introduced my earworm of the evening, Powder Blue, a Page composition. It starts off almost like the Twin Peaks theme (it took us ages to remember what it reminded us of!), which is intoxicating, then straight into the purity of the vocal blend.
Bobby Charles Down South In New Orleans was instant contrast, as well as a showcase of the drummer’s talents. It’s a song done on The Last Waltz by The Band with Bobby Charles, which made it to the triple album set, but sadly not to the movie.
Adios Maria has a Western feel just with the name (though Marty Robbins was Felina at Rosa’s Cantina, but you know what I mean).
No More Crying The Blues is classic Sun Records rockabilly, recorded by Alton & Jimmy in 1959. Why did all those early C&W / rockabilly artists keep singing about the blues, when they were the other side of the tracks?
I haven’t worked out what the next song was. Help needed! It was especially impressive with whistling from Jack, and what sounded like a vocal version of a saxophone too.
If I Can’t Win is a further lovely original, with a twangy electric guitar fill.
The main set closer was a total surprise, a Beatles B-side. There are so many good ones. This Boy is the B-side of I Want To Hold Your Hand. John Lennon was consciously trying to emulate the Doo-Wop era. Why are Beatles B-sides always such a treat?
Traveler’s Paradise was the first encore. On setlist.com it’s variously noted as Goodbye or I’m Gone But Not Forgotten, but it is the closing track of their album, and with the word “Goodbye” so prominent an appropriate closer.
iPhone / lo-res
I thought we might get a second encore as they hadn’t done Stoplight Kisses, perhaps the best-known song here, as it opens the album with a bright early 60s teen pop style.
Jack had a “first day of European tour jetlag” moment when they started a Waylon Jennings song, and after two lines the lyrics escaped him. They restarted, but I know what it’s like on a stage when that happens … it won’t come, and it didn’t. It actually endeared them even more to the audience.
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry was done instead, safe classic Hank Williams territory for lyrics. First rate rendition too.
This is the first concert of 2017 for me (and the first gig of their European tour). They have placed the bar very high indeed for the rest of the year.
This was a new venue for Rhythm ‘n’ Roots, basically a school canteen with a high stage, but they had gone to a great deal of effort with the stage set, with rustic wood, stars and stripes flags, and even a portrait of Merle Haggard.
stage (before Junco Shakers first set)
It looked good, and the PA sounded good. The band mentioned that this week of all weeks, they would not have dared themselves to deck the stage with US flags! (A minor note, one was used with the stripes as the stage edge, with the stars bit flat on the stage … more traditional C&W artists might object to walking on the flag). It was brilliantly organized. Hot food was available as well as beer and wine. Paying 50p for a bottle of water was a joy too … I think I paid five times as much at the O2 in London, and even down the road at the concert hall, it’s three times as much. Not only that, there’s a large car park and easy parking in the side road. They have a bluegrass festival coming in July. It’s on my calendar.
It was a full evening … the support act did nearly an hour, the changeover was rapid … none of the hanging about for hoped-for beer sales you so often get in clubs. We got two full sets from The Cactus Blossoms too.
On to the support …
Ben Gunn: Lead vocals,Washboard, Harmonica
Gaz ‘Pop’ Gunn: Vocals, Lead Guitar
Sam La Penn: Lead vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Mitchell Ratcliffe: Double Bass
(* – on the Junco Shakers CD – EP / MP3 downloads)
She’s Got It For Sale *
Never Do Me Wrong *
Champagne Charlie Is My Name
Blue Blood Blues *
Sugar Coated *
St Louis Blues
(A Woman That Looks As Good As You)
Switchin’ in The Kitchen
One More Drink Before I Go
Fabulous initial impact. They stand in a line of four, then jump straight in with all four singing flat out. The washboard is flat on a stand, played with metal brushes at “guitar height” so the line up is solid and even. They describe themselves as “Skiffle, Swing, Rhythm & Blues”.
First support act test: did I buy the CD –EP. Yes, of course, and it opens with She’s Got It For Sale the second number. Ben Gunn plays harmonica as well as washboard percussion, strongly on this. I guess it’s original.
They have two lead vocalists, with Ben on Washboard going for the raucous gravelly sound on the Lonnie Donegan covers (Lost John, Gambling Man) and the Fats Waller Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Champagne Charlie Is My Name – a song that can be traced back 150 years. They also did St Louis Blues,
You couldn’t ask for a more vigorous support act to get the audience warmed up and going with a swing. As we said at the interval before The Cactus Blossoms, we’d have been delighted if we’d turned up and Junco Shakers was all we’d seen. They have a great feel for the energy and propulsion of Lonnie Donegan which runs through the entire act.
Best support band I’ve seen in years. I’ll happily go and see them on their own.