In an age when cultural currency seems measured in units of irony, brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey are an astonishing revelation. The duo fronts the Twin Cities-based Cactus Blossoms, drawing inspiration from the likes of Bob Wills and Lefty Frizzell, but also honoring the country tradition of brother harmonies that includes the Monroes, Stanleys, and Louvins. All the while, the pair exhibits earnestness where others so young might resort to yokel-y accents and corn-pone humor.
This set, recorded on a sweltering summer evening at St. Paul’s Turf Club (incidentally, a former neighborhood C&W tavern turned rock club) cherry-picks 10 peerless covers and three Torrey originals from the evening’s proceedings. Kicking off with Wills’ “San Antonio Rose” and including record-collector gems like “A Little Unfair” (the Hank Cochran/Chuck Howard composition recorded by Frizzell and Willie Nelson) and Johnny & Jack’s “Down South In New Orleans” (at whichThe Band once took a stab), the recording features an ace backing band comprising standup bass, ﬁddle, accordion, and Randy Broughten (Gear Daddies) on pedal steel and Dobro.
The highlight is the Torrey composition “Change Your Ways Or Die (The Buffalo Song),” with lyrics that sound as if they could have been scratched on the back of an old Sinclair map out on the dusty plains during the FDR administration and a western jazz lick that would do Junior Barnard proud. As Torrey sings on the closer, a cover of an Edgar Dowell/Andy Razaf prewar jazz chestnut, “Yes sir!”
This article originally appeared in VG‘s May ’14 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.