Four Country tunes from the pen of Dylan.
The Cactus Blossoms are the duo of brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum (in case you’re wondering, Jack has explained that his real name is something of a mouthful, so he goes by a combination of a nickname and a distortion of his given name) who’ve been recording since 2016 and have, so far, three full albums of country mixed with an early rock and roll feel with the sibling harmonies thrown in. They started out to record what would be an EP of other people’s songs with ‘Went to See The Gypsy’ and then realised that Dylan was a mine that could be worked on its own. So they added ‘To Ramona‘, ‘If Not For You‘ and ‘Tell Me That It Isn’t True‘ and called that Volume 1 – which is as good as a promise of more to come. It’s an interesting selection of songs – two love songs, a chiding song that also shows empathy and a song that was about meeting Elvis – or at least of acknowledging his influence whilst retaining a declaration of parity “‘How are you?’ he said to me, and I said the same to him.” But that’s with Dylan singing them – what happens when it’s The Cactus Blossoms?
The arrangements are mellow country-folk, there’s some organ and guitar but it eschews any unsettling stabs or behind the vocal edginess. ‘If Not For You‘ opens the EP in a jaunty way, with a free and easy – and thankful – statement of love. It’s one of Dylan’s most successfully covered songs, because it is so free of side. ‘To Ramona‘ pulls in some rumbling, echoing, percussion to strengthen the harmonising vocals which otherwise could have overly softened the implied criticisms of the lyrics. ‘Went to See The Gypsy‘ is an interesting choice, it does include the words “so I watched the sun come rising from a little Minnesota town” which may have appealed to the Minnesota based duo with its promise of a home town cheer when played live. Enriched with pedal steel it’s a song that, freed from Dylan’s voice, has the potential to open the mind up to different interpretations than Dylan’s fantasy meeting with Elvis. The final song ‘Tell Me That It Isn’t True‘ is shaped as the pleadings of an anxious, perhaps even jealous, lover – but that slight edge of paranoia from the original has been smoothed out.
‘If Not For You, Bob Dylan Songs Vol 1‘ is just a short EP, the choice and arrangements of the songs give it a coherent feel and they suit The Cactus Blossoms’ restrained style and it’s all nicely played and sung. It’s all very pleasant but, as Dylan might have said, “no reason to get excited“.
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Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan’s music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That’s not much to ask, is it?