Armed With Sibling Harmonies, the Cactus Blossoms Captivate at Sons of Hermann Hall

The joke was on everyone who missed the Cactus Blossoms on Friday night in Dallas.
The joke was on everyone who missed the Cactus Blossoms on Friday night in Dallas. Preston Jones
The wry joke in the Cactus Blossoms’ name becomes apparent the moment the singing starts.

As it happened Friday, on a simmering spring evening on the edge of Deep Ellum inside the venerable old Sons of Hermann Hall, the lovely melodies arrived with little fanfare. Brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum, each with a guitar across their chest, began singing the title track from their most recent LP, One Day, at the stroke of 9. The room — an eyeball estimate put the crowd somewhere a hair over a hundred souls — began to shift in their direction, pulled as if by invisible string.

Blood harmony, the galvanizing effect of familial voices singing in unison, is a rare delight in modern music, perhaps discounted for its novelty in an age when anything can be summoned digitally. But when it’s in full flower, as it was Friday night, there is nothing else like it: immaculate tenor voices, springing forth from Torrey and Burkum’s honeyed throats with little apparent effort, gliding along one another, dipping low and soaring high and suffusing the cozy, wood-lined room with the warm glow of satisfaction.

Torrey and Burkum, making their first Dallas appearance in three years, had help in conjuring their magic — they were supported Friday by their cousin, Phillip Hicks, on bass, as well as Ben Lester on pedal steel and Matt Meyer on drums. The set, a brief 75 minutes, nevertheless encompassed 20 songs, as most of the Cactus Blossoms’ four-album catalog is composed of songs that make a vivid impression and end far sooner than you’d like, akin to a sumptuous dream.

The Minneapolis-based band’s sound scans as alt-country, but there are other flavors percolating within: folk, pop and rock are evident, albeit each of those genres in the 1950s, ‘60s or ‘70s, when genres were a little hazier.

Even the encore — which featured the evening’s opener, Esther Rose, adding her exquisite vocals to the single “Everybody” — was rife with rapture.

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The Blossoms are perfectly capable of stomping up a head of steam that woud've been saluted by Hank Williams or Lefty Frizzell — as they did on “Change Your Ways or Die” — just as they deftly summon the ghosts of Roy Orbison or the Everly Brothers, as they did on “You’re Dreaming.”

Though slight in number, the audience on hand more than made up for its scale with its enthusiasm, raucously cheering each tune and even indulging in a bit of dancing here and there. Singling out a particular highlight from Friday’s performance would be like choosing your favorite appendage: Even the encore — which featured the evening’s opener, Esther Rose, adding her exquisite vocals to the single “Everybody” — was rife with rapture.

Back to the wry joke: A literal cactus blossom is, of course, a flower affixed to one of nature’s less inviting plants, its beauty situated amid razor-sharp spines. Admire it too closely, and it could leave a mark. So it is with Torrey and Burkum’s songwriting — “I will forgive/Forgive and never forget,” goes a line on the otherwise breezy “One Day,” just as “Runaway” masks emotional scars (“Will you ever see, what you did to me/Won’t get you very far”) with a gorgeous rockabilly bounce.

Pain and pleasure in unnervingly close proximity, tightly aligned  Tinorrey and Burkum’s incandescent harmonies — made an evening spent in the Cactus Blossoms’ company as sturdy and comforting a bulwark as can be found these days against the howling madness of the world outside the venue’s doors.
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Preston Jones is a Dallas-based writer who spent a decade as the pop music critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors honored his work three times, including a 2017 first place award for comment and criticism (Class AAAA). His writing has also appeared in the New York Observer, The Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, Central Track, Oklahoma Today and Slant Magazine.
Contact: Preston Jones