Blue Cactus Choir – …Once in a Bluegrass Moon (review)

Blue Cactus Choir – …Once in a Bluegrass Moon (Porgy) review

A sprawling, yet warm and inviting album that transports you to many different places – some exotic, some comical, but all extremely enjoyable

Blue Cactus Choir is a collaboration between two Southern California songwriters – Marty Atkinson and Katy Boyd, each bringing their own flavor to this new project.  Their debut album is called …Once in a Bluegrass Moon, an earthy blend of country, folk, and 70’s soft rock, complete with impeccable harmonies and excellent musicianship.  But, what really elevates these songs is the songwriting.

Atkinson weaves tales of lost loves and debauchery, while mentioning exotic places like Tampico and Avalon, all sung in his clear, yet smooth voice.  An excellent example of this is “Blue Moon Over Mexico.” Led by a gentle acoustic guitar and banjo, he laments the one that got away, but the chorus has such fantastic harmonies that are reminiscent of Firefall, it makes you forget that it’s supposed to be sad.

Boyd, while not the polar opposite, certainly paints a different picture.  Her voice has a rougher quality (their press release described it as “spicy” – I like that).  Her best songs tend toward the humorous side, as in “Love in the Emergency Room,” or “A Cat Named Ginger and a Dog Named Fred Astaire.”  In the latter, she gets run over by a jealous girlfriend and the injuries put her in the hospital. In the former, her man abandons her, leaving little but the two animals.  Both are funny, but in a touching way.

Another aspect that really stands out is the production – the acoustic instrumentation (banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar) all jump out of the speakers the way few albums in the digital age ever do.  Everything is wrapped in very warm and inviting tones.

About the only complaint about this record is that it’s lengthy – 21 songs to be exact.  In this single-download environment, it’s a lot to ingest.  One of the best songs on the whole record is Boyd’s “Gravity,” which sounds like a countrified Barenaked Ladies, complete with a twist ending.  The problem is, it’s buried at track 20 – I missed it the first time through.  There’s really not a clunker in the entire lot, which is really a compliment.  But, perhaps they could’ve saved some of the tracks for “…Twice in a Bluegrass Moon” six months from now?  Complaining about an album having too many great songs, am I really writing this?

Great albums are capable of lifting you out of the ordinary and into other places and times. …Once in a Bluegrass Moon whisks you away to a warm & cozy place, where a stiff drink is never too far away.  –Tony Peters