Blue Cactus, the North Carolina duo of Steph Stewart and Mario Arnez, make Cosmic Americana: a blend of grit, glitz, groove, and twang that evokes a celestial soundscape of mid-century heartbreak.
Following their critically acclaimed 2017 debut and a string of singles in 2020 their evolution is made plain on their sophomore LP, Stranger Again, released May 7, 2021 on Sleepy Cat Records. The album has received enthusiastic attention from tastemakers including No Depression, American Songwriter, FLOOD Magazine, Talkhouse, and INDY Week among others.
Stranger Again is a deep dive into Cosmic American music, with the band taking their sound into ambitious new planes, where country-rock meets light psychedelia as the soaring vocals meet twangy slide-guitars and propulsive bass-lines. The otherworldliness of the music is a perfect contrast to their distinctly grounded, human storytelling lyrics. Throughout Stranger Again, they explore loss and longing, self-love and reckoning with personal, political and human struggles.
Their finest work yet, Blue Cactus resuscitate a fleeting style of honest-to-goodness country music considered valueless to a “new” country music where songwriting is officiated by financial analysts and teams of marketing plutocrats instead of woebegone troubadours. With a high lonesome twang, an Emmylou-like southern drawl, and blistering guitar techniques, Blue Cactus’ new record Stranger Again exercises the honky-tonk muscles to firmly bear the flag for a new generation of cosmic country practitioners.
Blue Cactus: Website | Instagram | Facebook
In their own words: “I grew up in Greensboro going to Friendly Shopping Centre to hang out with my friends at the Gap and drink “smoothies” that were like thick Kool-Aid. I got sick on sugar and decided to start sneering more. When I was 19, I went to Chicago to take classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music, where Pete Seeger and John Prine had played, and lost my edge again. I went back to college in North Carolina and abruptly fell in love, swallowed point blank. I joined a folky band called Mipso. My heart broke. I got tired of going to bars and moved to the country. Then I got tired of the country and moved closer to the bars. I traveled all over the U.S. and a few other parts of the world playing songs for people, and they were the type of song people can sing along to, and it felt uncanny when they sang along. I decided voting was senseless, then I tried to get everyone I knew to vote for Bernie Sanders, then my heart broke again real bad. All the time I was putting songs into my back pocket, and eventually it started to feel heavy, so I recorded them, and by then I had a lot of magical friends around to record them with.
Half the time it feels silly to be making this stuff, and some of the time it feels like a well-greased wheel, but mostly I’ve just worn in a little path and I keep finding myself coming back to walk it and see what new bugs will catch my eye. It’s a strange time to publish something you’ve made, or that’s a strange thing to do in any time. So much of it feels like spectacle, but then what about the tree that fell in the empty forest? What about how great it is to kiss in public? What’s the point if you’re not doing a little dancing around, wearing blue leather boots, holding a tennis racket and a sprouting onion? ”
Libby Rodenbough: Instagram | YouTube | Spotify | Bandcamp