Album Review: The Cactus Blossoms – ‘Easy Way’

The short version: Despite featuring a more refined sonic palette, ‘Easy Way’ by the Cactus Blossoms doesn’t offer much of anything interesting.

  • Favorite tracks: “Easy Way,” “Got A Lotta Love,” “Please Don’t Call Me Crazy”
  • Least favorite track: “See It Through”
  • Rating: 5/10

The long version: In a way, artists being compared to their influences puts them in a tough spot. On one hand, it can be a great way for them to have their careers gain traction. On the other hand, there comes a point where those comparisons become inescapable, and instead of focusing on the artist’s (or duo’s or group’s or … ) own individual/collective talent, the main draw is what long lost time period they successfully evoke.

It’s difficult to find a review of the Cactus Blossoms’ 2016 sophomore project, You’re Dreaming that doesn’t mention the Everly Brothers. It’s meant as a compliment, but considering their production even pulled from the same retro, ’50’s leaning style of that era, it was hard to look at who The Cactus Blossoms really were.

And you can tell brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum likely took that to heart, as they completely shifted gears ahead of their newest release, Easy Way. Instead of JD McPherson behind the production wheel, the brothers handled things themselves. They even went as far as to recruit top tier instrumental talent in Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and Michael Lewis of Bon Iver. And when this record was described as being more “modern,” it seemed like the brothers were ready to step out of those aforementioned shadows.

But Easy Way is only more modern in the sense that now, instead of sounding like the aforementioned Everly Brothers, the Cactus Blossoms now sound like Simon & Garfunkel. As much as I hate to say it, Easy Way by the Cactus Blossoms is a disappointing followup for the duo, as nothing on this album sounds remotely interesting or shows the brothers in a new light.

The biggest failing of Easy Way is that it coasts on style over substance. Granted, lyrics have always been the weakest element of a Cactus Blossoms album, but there’s some truly lazy songs here. There’s two types of tracks here – love songs, and the sociocultural tracks that sound too disconnected to say anything of relevance. “Please Don’t Call Me Crazy” features a nice fuzzed out groove to it, but the random one-liners that speak of technology’s influence on modern society only barely scratch the surface of anything interesting.

And when I say Easy Way is repetitive, that’s barely an opinion. “See It Through” ends by repeating the hook a total of eight times, and the number isn’t much better for “Got A Lotta Love.” In a nutshell, the tracks on Easy Way just don’t say anything. “Downtown” is the closest the brothers come to saying anything remotely interesting, but even here, the upbeat tones don’t match the biting lyrical mood in the slightest. “Boomerang” is a track that seems so disconnected that I can’t even begin to say what it even might mean. “I Am The Road” and “Desperado” are decent enough love songs I suppose, but the chest-pumping of the narrator in the former track was certainly unneeded.

But again, the big draw to the duo is their harmonies, so perhaps one could argue the lyricism doesn’t really matter as much anyway. In that case, there’s admittedly a few tracks where the added presentation works in their favor. The title track is probably the best moment on this album, with dreamier saxophone coming in beautifully to support the lusher tones overall. “Got A Lotta Love” has a nice, easy, warm rollicking groove to it evident in the narrator’s plea for a chance at love. Even the dreamier, lullaby-esque closer, “Blue As The Sea” manages to come across as poetic despite its lack of greater details.

And in terms of those aforementioned vocal performances, they’re probably the other stellar part of this project. The drawn-out chorus of the title track sounds incredibly smooth, as does their sincerity on “Got A Lotta Love.” But at the end of the day, Easy Way just doesn’t offer much beyond a few good performances here and there. Essentially all of the tracks feature verses that are way too short and nondescript to lead to anything interesting, especially when many tracks here explore the same basic theme.

Overall, while the natural talent of the Cactus Blossoms keeps this from being a bad album, Easy Way is still an album that’s hard to get all that excited about either way, and that, more than anything, is the biggest disappointment of the Cactus Blossoms, not which duo they emulate.

(Light to decent 5/10)

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