Country rockers the Cactus Brothers marked their turf by kicking off their 1993 debut with a cover of Merle Travis's "Sixteen Tons." Tennessee Ernie Ford's 1955 version of the song was an exercise in finger snapping and studied cool, but the Cactus Brothers rock down to the center and come up with an ominous dose of black lung. Lead singer Paul Kirby sounds both defeated and defiant as he snarls away against a wall of rhythm guitars, sawing electric fiddle, and hammered backbeats, testifying that the company store really is the maw of hell. These guys are rockers, but they also use stuff like dulcimers, dobros, banjos, and Jew's harps to rock out with. When not pile driving, the band takes eclectic turns into Celtic-drenched folk. They're long-haired for the most part, tend to favor black, and have nothing in common with labelmate Garth Brooks. Word is they deliver live. (If you miss this show, you can check out their brief appearance as--what else?--a bar band in the George Strait film Pure Country.) Thursday, March 10, 10 PM, Whiskey River, 1997 N. Clybourn; 528-3400.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kal Roberts.