Tim Hughes dons his spurs for a musical trip to the wide open prairie with The Cactus Blossoms
Brothers Jack and Burkhum sound like they are from a different era.
The Minnesota-born siblings, who play together as The Cactus Blossoms could have come from any time from the 1940s – just not now. All the more remarkable then that their debut, You’re Dreaming, was released just last year.
This is classic country-flavoured rock & roll; melancholic lyrics delivered in dreamy harmonies with a swinging beat and steel-string guitar. Their deliciously retro songs nod to the past – coming across like a cowboy version of the Everly Brothers – and are informed by a love of what has come before and an understanding of where their heroes took their cues.
"We weren’t born in the wrong era," says Jack. "We just got into some music from a different era and found a way to make it our own."
Raised in Minneapolis, the brothers were drawn from an early age to classic folk and country music, honing their songwriting skills with weekly gigs at former country 1940s 'honkytonk' in twin city St Paul.
They mix classic covers with their own tunes, with few people able to tell the difference.
"When my brother and I started making music as The Cactus Blossoms there wasn’t a big plan," says Jack. "We cut our teeth performing some well known and obscure country songs that were popular or unpopular pre-1960, partly out of curiosity and deep appreciation, but mostly because it was fun."
He adds: "Early on we were given a residency at the Turf Club. We got a band together and it became our weekly practice-in-public where we would pull out every song we could think of, no matter how well we knew it.
"It was our first chance to play all night and do whatever we wanted.
"Over the course of a year and a half, our repertoire had snowballed into an amalgam of original songs and a bunch of gut wrenching, tongue-in-cheek heartbreakers, that were 30 years older than us.
"Not everyone could tell what was new and what was old, and it didn’t really matter. "People just seemed to enjoy it. That’s when the wheel got going and gave the illusion of spinning backwards."
Fans include JD McPherson, who discovered their sound when the brothers supported him at a gig. he ended up producing their album.
"Good fortune has followed us every step of the way, offering opportunities that seemed just beyond what we’re ready for," says Jack.
"It always stretches us out and makes us feel lucky as hell.
"When JD McPherson called and said he was interested in producing our record, it was the latest in a series of serendipitous events that brought us to where we are today. We opened for him at a gig in our hometown Minneapolis a few months earlier and had met him briefly, but never could have imagined that within a year we would be collaborating on a new album and criss-crossing America on tour with his band.
"JD is a music connoisseur with the singing voice of an angel, the boundless creative energy of a child, a scholar’s mind and the auditory perception of a wolf. This guy was the guy. He wanted to do something sparse and rhythmic with simple melodic arrangements and it lined up perfectly with the direction our new songs were leading us.
"We wanted to record live with the best rhythm section we could find, in one room, playing together while we sang.
"It’s not the easiest process, but it’s the way we wanted to capture the music."
JD pointed them to Chicago and enlisted the talents of engineer/drummer Alex Hall, guitarist Joel Paterson, and bassist Beau Sample.
"It felt like a musical dream team," says Jack. "But we had no idea what would happen. We barely knew these guys and they barely knew our music.
"On the morning of our first session Alex was setting up microphones and running cables through his vents from the living room down to the control room in the basement. The rest of us were drinking coffee in the kitchen and making small talk.
"JD was running back and forth cracking jokes, trying to decide what song was best to do first.
"Within a couple of hours Queen Of Them All was finished, and everyone knew we were in the right place at the right time.
"The result, is the culmination of several years of songwriting and the kindness of thousands of miles and friends. With a cast of characters, experiences, and personal perspectives, set in simple rhymes and sung in harmony, we try to paint a picture in your mind."
- The Cactus Brothers play the Bullingdon, Oxford, on Wednesday. Tickets from wegottickets.com