The Cactus Blossoms are one of those groups who know exactly what their wheelhouse is and play to it expertly. Having brought their own captivating brand of midwest folk-country to tours with music festival favorites like Kacey Musgraves, Jenny Lewis and Lucius, Minneapolis-based brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum are back for their third album as The Cactus Blossoms.
One Day (★★★☆☆) is further proof of what fans already recognized as their ability to do a lot with a little. Clocking in at just 32 minutes, it’s a misleadingly simple work on first blush, but one that deals deftly with the tensions of day-to-day life, even as it offers an escape into its warm, comforting vintage country sound.
Even as sibling acts go, the brothers work together with uncanny precision. Their harmonies are so tight that it is sometimes hard to tell where Torrey’s voice ends and Burkum’s begins. Notwithstanding the inevitable comparisons to the Everly Brothers, Torrey and Burkum have a chemistry that is all their own.
Their strength as a duo goes beyond the family resemblance in their vocals. The two began playing and recording together roughly a decade ago, and they have a lot to show for those years.
Burkum and Torrey have finely honed their sound, and are firmly grounded in classic country, with beachy ’60s pop creeping in here and there. They made an excellent choice for the one collab on the album — Jenny Lewis shines on “Everybody,” trading lines with the brothers (over a Wurlitzer piano) so perfectly that by the end you can’t help but buy into the compassion the song radiates.
According to Torrey, the brothers were preoccupied with the idea of silver linings, and One Day gets off to an accordingly optimistic start with “Hey Baby,” a breezy, innocent road trip track that paints a picture of all the fun things there are to look forward to down the road.
They keep up that optimism through songs like “Not the Only One” and “Love Tomorrow,” which have a more straightforwardly earnest hopefulness about them. Even songs like “Is It Over,” sung in the voice of a washed-up singer waiting for the hook, are delivered with a grin and a winking sense of humor.
Despite the high note that One Day begins on and the sense that better days are on their way, the Cactus Blossoms never quite manage to shake their palpable sense of gloom. Even the upbeat opening track features the recurring line, “I hope it all works out, it always works out,” leaving listeners to wonder if Torrey and Burkum are the ones they’re trying to reassure.
The sense of heaviness is understandable given the circumstances of the album’s conception, given that it was written and recorded entirely during the pandemic. As a result, most of the songs have a similar undercurrent of bittersweetness and nostalgia to them.
Each track has a different inflection and tells a different story or hints at a different set of circumstances, although these differences can be subtle. “Ballad of the Unknown” reckons with what it means to be left behind by the world at large, its final line rendered all the more ominous by its quiet urgency: “How long can this go on?”
The penultimate track, “I Could Almost Cry,” might be the single most disquieting. Despite its insistence on resilience and its somewhat uplifting melody, it paints a bleak picture of near-total ruin. In stark terms, it spells out the album’s central tension, caught as it is between the hope of a brighter future and the weight of the present day.
They manage to walk the line expertly between their persistent optimism and the heavier subject matter they deal with, without ever brushing off or minimizing either one.
One Day does few things in its short runtime, but it does them nearly flawlessly. It’s chock-full of simple, catchy rhymes delivering evocative, well-wrought lyrics over beautiful music.
From their uncanny harmonies to their finely-crafted melodies, Torrey and Burkum’s greatest strength as a pair is their cohesion and ability to work almost as a single unit.
With One Day, they have crafted a series of heartfelt songs that manage to be neither naive nor condescending, but are instead delivered with a deep warmth and humanity in the best tradition of classic country.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!