Tag Archives: Jack Torrey

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It’s the End of the Year as We Know It

December 28th, 2017

With 2018 fast approaching, The House List takes a look back at 2017.

Adela Loconte, Photographer @adelaloconte
Top Five Favorite Shows
1.
At the Drive-In, Terminal 5, March 22
2. Arca & Jesse Kanda Live, Brooklyn Steel, July 6
3. The Flaming Lips, Terminal 5, March 9
4. PJ Harvey, Brooklyn Steel, April 20
5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kings Theatre, November 7

Chad Berndtson, Writer @cberndtson
Top Five Favorite Shows
No music fan sees everything, and so much depends on the time, the night, the conditions—my ephemeral joys might be your disappointments. That’s part of the fun, right? Among scores of shows I saw in 2017, here are five nights that stuck with me.
1. Drive By Truckers, The Space at Westbury, February 10
One of the great live bands of the last 20 years has gotten leaner and meaner, unafraid of political jabs or paint-peeler guitar solos.
2. Explosions in the Sky, Capitol Theatre, April 22
Ominous music, loaded with portent, staring into the abyss or looking with a smile at some triumph high in the sky. Heavy, cinematic and deep.
3. Jerry Joseph & the Jackmormons, Mercury Lounge, April 30
A master class in old-school, highly emotional rock energy. Still don’t understand why more people don’t know him, 30-plus years into a career of rough-scuffed folk rock delivered sometimes with tenderness and sometimes with Crazy Horse–like abandon.
4. The xx, Forest Hills Stadium, May 19
OK, I’m buying: Hipster as hell, but what they did was paint an outdoor venue in darkly beautiful soundscapes. The most fun I’ve had getting lost in a band in some time. They turn large, unforgiving venues into intimate listening rooms—and get you dancing.
5. Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Music Hall of Williamsburg, November 20
Nelson has learned a lot from two musical dads: his actual dad, Willie, and also Neil Young, whom the Promise of the Real have backed on and off for years now. The type of show that defines the word swagger—a generous meal of rock, country, folk, blues and R&B by an old-school showman barely in his prime.

Dan Rickershauser, Writer @d4nricks
Top Five Favorite Albums
1.
Big Thief, Capacity
The one record I found myself returning to again and again. It was a shitty year, but something about this album soothed my sorrows. Adrianne Lenker’s songs feel personal yet completely pull you in. May she never let go.
2. Kendrick Lamar, Damn.
This may be my least favorite Kendrick Lamar record to date and yet it’s still the second best album that came out this year. The man’s a legend and the world seems to know it. It’s a good thing he’s so humble.
3. The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding
Adam Granduciel, the obsessive studio wizard, put out another beauty, this record even more gorgeous than the last. It’s the sound of rock perfection from a perfectionist.
4. Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm
Katie Crutchfield’s songwriting just keeps getting better. She comes out of the gates swinging with some dangerously catchy jams.
5. Grizzly Bear, Painted Ruins
Of all the great indie bands of the late Aughts returning with new albums this year, Grizzly Bear’s takes the cake. Way too many critics slept on this one!

Pat King, Writer @mrpatking
Top Five Favorite Albums
1. Jens Lekman, Life Will See You Now
I had never really given Jens Lekman a chance as a songwriter, but this year it finally clicked for me in a big way. I got laid off from a job that I thought I loved early on in 2017 and was feeling pretty lost and listless in life. I was taking the train from the city to upstate New York to help my dad with a few big projects and was feeling incredibly low sitting alone on Metro North. All of the sudden, I heard “To Know Your Mission” and was completely overcome with emotion. It was the perfect tune for me at that time and each song that followed helped me understand my situation a little more clearly. I couldn’t believe how wise and endearing Lekman is as a lyricist.
2. Mark Mulcahy, The Possum in the Driveway
Whenever the discussion veers toward musicians who have not been given their just dues, I always think of Mark Mulcahy. As the frontman of Miracle Legion and the Nickelodeon-sponsored Polaris (“ay-yay-yay-yi, Hey Sandy”), Mulcahy had been known for a certain type of feel-good college jangle pop that was certainly a product of the ’90s. What many people may not realize is that his solo releases have been more emotionally and musically rewarding than either of those old projects, and he’s been one of few artists who each album he releases is better than his last. Over the past couple of decades he has reinvented himself as one of the great American balladeers, with lyrics and a voice that can cut you down to the bone. This year’s the Possum in the Driveway is a brilliant testament to his powers as a songwriter and one that proves he is in a league of his own.
3. Pallbearer, Heartless
Pallbearer have always shown promise of being one the best doom-metal bands around. But with their self-titled third album, they’ve transcended the genre and gelled into one of today’s most exciting rock bands. The songs are slightly shorter (although still around eight minutes) but have somehow intensified their scope in a more epic way. With this LP, Brett Campbell has made his case for being one of the best singers in heavy music. His lines never reach the outrageous heights of some of his peers in metal but bring enough power to stop you in your tracks. The same goes for this record’s instrumentation. The songs never feel like they have too many parts or get played out to the point of metal parody. It’s just a front-to-back banger that finally cemented Pallbearer as one of the best around.
4. Björk, Utopia
There aren’t many artists who you could say are peerless in popular music. Björk is definitely one of those artists. Every time she releases a new album, fans wait with anticipation to see where she if she will be able to clear the bar she set for herself on the one before. Utopia is such a statement as a complete work as she tries to understand and find happiness in her life after exploring decimating heartbreak on her last release, Vulnicura. It’s amazing to hear her reach the same breathtaking heights as a visionary artist this far into her career. Bow down and give respect.
5. Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock
Robyn Hitchcock delivered the back-to-basics Soft Boys–style album that many of his fans had been longing for for years. Teaming up with producer (and ex-Raconteur) Brendan Benson, Hitchcock turned up the amps and delivered 10 near-flawless rock songs that reminded us why he is one of the most inventive songwriters around. His wit as a lyricist is still ever-present, but hearing him deliver guitar parts reminiscent of Underwater Moonlight on songs like “I Want to Tell You What I Want” and “Mad Shelley’s Letterbox” was one of the most welcome surprises of 2017 for me.
Pat King’s Top 20 Best of 2017 Playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/126049064/playlist/2idgUHVCiGSJqKkwkfex8v?si=wewT–RFRfWWxEVV3rmWsQ.

Sharlene Chiu, Writer
Top Five Favorite Shows with “New” Artists
1. SZA, Brooklyn Steel, December 10

So if you haven’t yet heard of SZA, you won’t be able to escape her name anytime soon. Riding a debut album that has already produced two platinum singles, the singer played a very sold-out Brooklyn Steel the night after performing on SNL. Her vibrant stage presence was supported by the Sing Harlem Choir. Girl’s going places and you’ll see her next year at the Grammy’s, where she’s the most nominated woman with five nods.
2. Maggie Rogers, The Bowery Ballroom, April 11
When a video of Pharrell’s reaction to Ms. Rogers’ demo of “Alaska” went viral, she was on the up-and-up. Her performance at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom was not only a homecoming, but it was also a beginning of bigger stages and larger audiences. She became teary and confessional near the end of the set, reminiscing about the previous times she’d been to the venue as an audience member. After her pair of Bowery shows, she set off on a whirlwind international tour taking her to Europe, Australia and Japan.
3. The Cactus Blossoms, Mercury Lounge, July 12
The first time I caught the Cactus Blossoms’ noir-infused honky-tonk was at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco last year. When I saw they would be playing a late show at Mercury Lounge, I had to be there. Friends, I do not go out late on school nights, but for brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey, I made an exception. Their languid waltzes were the perfect soundtrack for steamy July.
4. Jay Som, Rough Trade NYC, June 6
A triad of Asian-American songwriters, including Mitski, Japanese Breakfast and Jay Som have been self-producing music since last year. The latter rolled into a sold-out Rough Trade NYC to charm the crowd with not only her skilled musicianship, but also with her charming wit. Som was recently shortlisted by NPR’s All Songs Considered in their year-end best of 2017.
5. Violents and Monica Martin, Rough Trade NYC, April 26
OK, this one isn’t technically new, but the pairing was. Monica Martin, best known as the frontwoman for the now-on-hiatus Phox, and producer Jeremy Larson aka Violents teamed up for this rare tour. Larson has collaborated with female vocalists before, but this one was special. Songs were paired with cinematic footage ranging from scenes from House Party to sweeping black-and-white scenery. What still sticks in my memory was a haunting cover of Frank Ocean’s “Self Control.”

 

 

 

 

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The Cactus Blossoms Keep Mercury Lounge Cool on a Hot Night

July 13th, 2017

The Cactus Blossoms – Mercury Lounge – July 12, 2017


Honky-tonk noir anyone? Well you’re in luck because Minnesotan brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum are serving up just what you’re craving as the Cactus Blossoms. They resemble a blend of vintage sibling pairs, with the harmonies of the Everly Brothers and the bittersweet waltz of Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk.” It’s not surprising that the two made their national-TV debut on the recently rebooted Twin Peaks: The Return, playing the melancholic “Mississippi” as the third-episode outro. After a string of Midwestern dates opening for Jenny Lewis, the duo returned Stateside following a quick European tour to grace Mercury Lounge with a late-night session on Thursday.

Playing to a sold-out crowd, Torrey hit the stage last apologizing for the late start as he was locked in the bathroom. Thankfully freed, the reunion produced an evening of sweet Southern charm as the Cactus Blossoms played a large portion of their debut full-length album, You’re Dreaming. The title track had the crowd soaring to the brothers’ harmonies, followed by the eerily haunting track featured on Twin Peaks. Drummer Alex Hall literally wheeled up to the stage with suitcase in hand to relieve his stand-in, Grant. Turns out Hall’s flight had been delayed 12 hours. But the consummate professionals rolled with the punches, noting that as musicians, it’s rare when things go as planned.

The Cactus Blossoms treated devoted fans to cuts from their back catalog, including the farewell tune, “Adios Maria,” which was less about a woman and more about parting with a place. After a new song, they covered the Kinks“Who’ll Be Next in Line,” paying homage to a fellow sibling pair, and dedicated “Happy Man on a Gloomy Day” to an unfortunately canceled Spain show. A previously requested “Spotlight Kisses” was happily applauded, and the country waltz of “Powder Blue” had everyone in the room swaying in delight. With the encore imminent, Torrey announced it was “too hot to rock,” instead concluding the evening with a slow one, “Travelers Paradise.” It was a fitting adieu on a steamy night. —Sharlene Chiu

 

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The Cactus Blossoms Fill Mercury Lounge with Perfect Harmonies

February 19th, 2016

The Cactus Blossoms – Mercury Lounge – February 18, 2016

CactusBlossomsWeb
“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.)

 

 

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Two Nights of the Cactus Blossoms’ Harmonies at Mercury Lounge

February 18th, 2016

Brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey have been making music as the throwback harmonizing folk-country duo the Cactus Blossoms for more than five years. AllMusic compared them to the Everly Brothers, and fellow Minnesotan Garrison Keillor dubbed them “the brother duet that America is waiting for.” The Cactus Blossoms (above, performing “Powder Blue” for Prairie Home Companion) have taken a major step forward with the recently released You’re Dreaming (stream it below), which BBC Radio 2 called “an absolute gem—a completely stunning debut album,” and about which American Songwriter said, “It won’t take more than one spin for these songs, with their lovely, pure melodies and sharp wordplay, to get stuck in your brain…. It’s an honest, unvarnished, completely engaging style that is clearly retro but in no way musty.” The Cactus Blossoms play Mercury Lounge tomorrow night. And if that weren’t enough, they also return to play Mercury Lounge next Tuesday.