Under The Radar: The Cactus Blossoms & Marlon Williams
In our never-ending quest to dig up great bands whose tickets cost less than a corned beef sandwich at your local deli, we bring you the latest edition of Under The Radar. The idea behind this column is to form a lasting relationship with artists we believe to have bright futures and stick with them as they develop and grow. In this edition, we have some really cool new music, so take a sec, learn a bit about the musicians and see what you think of these two under-the-radar acts that you can catch at SXSW…
The Cactus Blossoms
Don’t tell The Cactus Blossoms that it’s actually 2016. The Minneapolis-based band channel a time when Hank Williams was the King of Country, Elvis Presley was shaking his hips on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Everly Brothers where first combining country, folk and rock and roll. Brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum are full-on playing the part too with their pompadour hair styles and barely electrified band. The brother act sounds as if they’ve stepped straight out of the mid-1950s, with the kind of warm harmonies that could melt snow on the coldest winter’s night that only come from family members which likely spent many hours singing together.
Earlier this year, the throwback Americana act released You’re Dreaming, their full-length debut album. Produced by fellow retro rock n’ roll enthusiast JD McPherson, the 11-track effort showcases the duo’s love of the vintage sound that has you imagining them playing some roadside honky-tonk along Route 66. The band’s dusty, lovelorn laments bounce between country-shuffle, early rock n’ roll, Texas Swing and border town cowboy tunes. The brothers pay homage to these sounds while dutifully bringing them into the 21st century.
I’m not quite ready to anoint New Zealand as music’s next hotbed, but over the last decade or so they have given us their country’s “fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo” in Flight of the Conchords as well as a multi-Grammy Award winner with Lorde. The country’s latest musical export looking to make waves in the United States is Marlon Williams. Despite the fact that music is now readily available to anyone that has access to wifi, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter sounds as if he’s only had access to a certain slice of distinctly American music that was recorded some 50+ years ago.
Williams’ eponymous debut via venerable indie label Dead Oceans is strikingly unique compared to most of the releases coming out of the current Americana movement. The nine-track effort draws you in immediately with a barn-burner of a bluegrass tune that would make Bill Monroe proud and a straight-ahead Neil Young-esque country-rocker. The meat of the record though mixes lush country sounds and plaintive folk tunes, all anchored by Williams’ achingly gorgeous and haunting baritone vocals that are reminiscent of Roy Orbison. Williams, who toured the U.S. for the first time earlier this year with his backing band the Yarra Benders, will return stateside this Spring to serve as the opening act for Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) & Jesca Hoop.