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The Cactus Blossoms Fill Mercury Lounge with Perfect Harmonies

February 19th, 2016

The Cactus Blossoms – Mercury Lounge – February 18, 2016

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“It’s the country in it, but really the harmonies,” a friend told me about the Cactus Blossoms. “Like Hank Williams crossed with the Everly Brothers.” High—and pressure-packed—praise, but in the case of the Cactus Blossoms, it was decidedly accurate. The Minneapolis duo of Page Burkum and Jack Torrey, brothers in life and in music, blend their voices and demonstrate a command of traditional country that, astonishingly, sounds nostalgic and modern, particularly live. They didn’t so much play a 70-minute headlining set as stop time for a little bit, hypnotizing a packed audience with bittersweet romances, sad-eyed waltzes, bristled cowboy songs and snatches of Western swing.

The Cactus Blossoms dipped expertly into Hank Williams (“Your Cheatin’ Heart”), Waylon Jennings (“Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”) and others, but let many of their own tunes carry the night, from “A Sad Day to Be You” and “You’re Dreaming” to “Powder Blue” and “Stoplight Kisses.” But he standout may have been “Queen of Them All,” a swooning ballad that turned into a deeply felt romantic declaration with a happy ending.

Why did this work so well? The brothers let those rich, blended singing voices breathe, underpinning gorgeous harmonies with only the necessary amount of electric and acoustic guitar accompaniment and the insistent but never overpowering rhythm work of upright bassist Andy Carroll and drummer Chris Hepola, rounding out a new touring lineup. You could feel the heart in it—the authenticity and appreciation for this form of Americana and the potency of voices and spare instrumentation, without tricks or embellishment. And if you missed it, they return next week. —Chad Berndtson | @cberndtson

(The Cactus Blossoms play Mercury Lounge again on 2/23.)