“Hey baby, do you wanna take a trip with me? / I’ve got a feeling there might be a silver lining all around.” So begins One Day, the captivating new album from critically acclaimed Minneapolis duo The Cactus Blossoms. Sure, the line is an invitation, but more than that, it’s an examination of hope itself, of the tension between optimism and despair that’s defined much of the past few years of American life.
“That idea of finding a silver lining comes up a lot on this record,” says Jack Torrey, who launched the band roughly a decade ago with his brother, Page Burkum. “It’s an acknowledgment that no matter how messed up things might be, people still want to believe in the world and find ways to feel lucky and joyful.”
Written and recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, One Day explores that brand of defiant optimism with a simplicity and sincerity that belies the uncertainty and chaos that surrounded its creation. The songs are tender and timeless, with straightforward arrangements centered around Torrey and Burkum’s airtight harmonies, and the performances are warm and intimate, delivered with a gentle touch and understated production.
While The Cactus Blossoms have drawn frequent comparisons to other musical siblings like the Everlys and Louvins over the years, One Day often suggests a more soulful, ’70s-inspired palette, hinting at times to Bobby Charles or JJ Cale with its playful Wurlitzer, breezy guitars, and lean, muscular percussion. The band’s classic country and old-school pop roots are still there, of course, but the growth and evolution underlying One Day is obvious, not only in the duo’s writing, but in their core philosophy, as well. “I think we’re more confident now than we’ve ever been,” says Burkum. “We’re comfortable going after whatever feels right and just being true to ourselves and the songs, no matter where that takes us sonically.”
Hailed as "the Twin Cities' most beloved new traditional-country act” by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Cactus Blossoms built a devoted local following in the years leading up to their first national release, 2016’s You’re Dreaming, which was produced by friend and tourmate JD McPherson. Dates with Kacey Musgraves, Jenny Lewis, and Lucius followed, as did rave reviews from NPR, who extolled “the brothers’ extraordinary singing,” and the New York Times, who praised their “tightly woven harmonies.”
The band was further catapulted into the spotlight the following year, when David Lynch tapped them to perform in the highly-anticipated return of Twin Peaks, and continued to build on their success with their 2019 follow-up LP, Easy Way, which featured co-writes with Dan Auerbach and led Rolling Stone to laud the duo’s “rock-solid, freak of genetics harmonies.” Audiences were growing, both in the US and Europe, and it seemed that The Cactus Blossoms’ momentum was unstoppable.
“We’d been touring so hard for so long that we decided we’d take a little break to recharge before things picked up again in March of 2020,” says Torrey. “We had no idea at the time that we’d end up being off the road for two whole years.”
Lockdown hit the brothers hard. They’d just begun to get into a new groove of collaborative songwriting, and the band was so fine-tuned from all the relentless touring that they’d made plans to record their next album live in the studio together. Quarantine put a sudden halt to all that, though, and as Minneapolis began to erupt in social and political unrest following the police killing of George Floyd, music began to seem like the least of the duo’s concerns.
“It felt like the whole world was falling apart,” says Burkum. “We had to put things on hold just so we could try to wrap our heads around everything that was happening in Minneapolis and beyond.”
“To be honest, I felt kind of lost,” adds Torrey. “I stopped playing music entirely for a few months because I just didn’t know what to do. I was overwhelmed, and I just had to sit still for a while and wait for the creativity to come back.”
As 2020 stretched on, Torrey and Burkum slowly began to regain their footing, and when it felt safe enough to get together in person, they started kicking ideas back and forth, inviting each other into their respective writing processes earlier than ever before. When it came time to record, the brothers called on longtime collaborator/engineer Alex Hall, who brought his mobile rig up from Chicago so they could cut the album quick and dirty in Burkum’s basement. They kept their circle tight for the sessions, working with their core touring band—which included both their older brother and their cousin—to capture the songs with a feel as close to the live show as possible.
“From the start, we knew we wanted to keep the instrumentation minimal and consistent across the whole album and embrace the dryness that came with recording in Page’s basement,” says Torrey. “We wanted it to sound raw.”
That rawness fuels One Day, which opens with the steady-cruising “Hey Baby.” Like much of The Cactus Blossoms’ catalog, the song operates on multiple levels: take it at face value and it’s a playful little track about a roadtrip in a rusty old truck; zoom out, though, and there’s a deeper message about the power (or naïveté, depending on your perspective) of positive thinking. “I hope it all works out,” the brothers sing in exquisite harmony. “It always works out.”
“I think there’s a sense amongst these characters that you’ve got to keep your chin up or the bad will just get worse,” says Torrey. “Sometimes it feels like the only way for them to survive.”
The bittersweet title track imagines a future in which pain has given way to peace, while the easygoing “Love Tomorrow” considers what it means for the glass to be both half empty and half full at the same time, and the dreamy “Everybody” (which features vocals from Jenny Lewis) convinces itself that everyone’s just doing their best to get by.
“When ‘Everybody’ popped into my head, I just immediately heard it as this back-and-forth kind of thing with Jenny singing the verses,” says Torrey. “She’s had us out on a couple little runs and we think she’s one of the best singers out there, so it was really exciting for us that she was onboard.”
Despite the songs’ repeated insistence on a brighter tomorrow, the darkness and decay of the present often seeps into the music. The menacing “Ballad Of The Unknown,” for instance, paints a heartbreaking portrait of an outcast alienated and left behind by a society that fails to see his humanity; the breezy “Is It Over” finds an old country crooner reckoning with age and mortality as his glory days fade in the rearview mirror; and the aching “I Could Almost Cry” teeters on the brink of total collapse in the face of greed and cynicism.
“Broken lock, broken key / Broken everything but me,” Torrey sings as the rest of the band falls away. “And the door is open wide.”
It’s another invitation that’s more than just an invitation (what is hope, after all, but an open door?), another look at optimism and despair from a band that, like so many of us, finds themselves caught between two worlds: the one they want to believe in, and the one outside their window.