Guest Review by H.R. Gertner
On their second LP, Stranger Again, Blue Cactus continue to build upon their self-described Cosmic Americana. Wide open sounds and sonic vistas populate Stranger Again while spiraling vocals and a prominent pedal steel harken to the original king and queen of cosmic American music – Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris. The title track, “Come Clean”, and “Rodeo Queen“ most fully embrace Blue Cactus’s hypnotic ideal as Steph Stewart’s voice blends with Whit Wright’s pedal steel and melds into Mario Arnez’s high lonesome harmonies. Of the three, however, “Come Clean” carries the emotional weight of the record. “I think it’s about time I come clean… ‘cause I’ve been becoming everybody, I never wanted to be,” Stewart sings sweetly about dissatisfaction. “I didn’t want to be your fighter, ‘til you put me in the ring, now I just want to come clean,” she finishes over a flourish of sacred steel. At once sad yet soothing, “Come Clean” cleanses the lonesome country soul.
“Worried Man” trades the ethereal for the open road without losing the heart at the core of a Blue Cactus song. Windows down, radio up, you can almost feel the wheels spin as a worried man leaves his troubles in the wind. “Been going down the road to low to sing the blues, please worried man sing my song…nothing in the world can save the worried man,“ Stewart sings over a song that might just ease the mind of a worried man. “Too poor to live, too poor to die, poor boy hang his poor head and cry;” a common sentiment that takes on renewed depth on Stewart’s lips.
“Rebel” brings similar vibrant energy to Stranger Again as Arnez takes lead on a guitar driven American rocker that would fit neatly into Tom Petty’s catalogue while “Radioman” takes listeners on an isolated ride through a desolate nightscape while longing for a companion. The album closes with “Space Cowboy”, the lone instrumental, which moves beyond the marching drums of Earth bound conflict to the outer reaches of space on wings of pedal steel and a bevy of reverb in search of the elusive freedom that has always taunted the cowboy. It makes for a fitting end to a masterful journey through the Cosmic Americana of Blue Cactus.
Fans of moodiness of Neko Case, the soprano of Indigo Sparke, the jangled harmonies of The Jayhawks, and the bare bones country rock of American Aquarium give Strangers Again a spin today and dive deep into Blue Cactus’s cosmic American ocean.