The Reigning Sound

By - Jan 1st, 2006 02:52 pm
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It�s a cold November night when Greg Cartwright and his group The Reigning Sound take the Mad Planet stage. Cartwright clears his throat and apologizes for his hoarseness. But that�s not a problem, he sounds somewhere between Bobby �Blue� Bland and Paul Westerberg. In that perfect parallel universe, Cartwright�s songs are hits and writers don�t drop obscure references. A white artist hasn�t exhibited this much soul since Charlie Rich exited the planet, and as a young man Cartwright should have plenty of years ahead.

With The Oblivions and later The Compulsive Gamblers, Cartwright helped pilot Memphis projects of chaos, blues, punk and Gospel. The Reigning Sound albums took a decided turn toward melody, featuring Alex Greene�s proto-soul keyboards and slowed tempos. While still wholeheartedly a mix of garage and R&B, lyrically Cartwright wears his heart on his sleeve and backs the whole thing up with hooks that refuse to leave your head.

Outtakes, different arrangements, an odds & sods compilation: call Home For Orphans what you will, but this band�s crumbs are better than most groups� top-shelf material. �Funny Thing,� as close to a perfect song as you might hear, adds uncredited pedal steel to notch the melancholy factor.

Much like Roy Orbison, �What Could I Do� frames what could be a short novel or black and white movie based around the interactions of three people, and leaves the listener intensely curious about the outcome. Chicago�s Green and vintage Brian Wilson come to mind throughout the album as The Reigning Sound work from solid, tried and true song structures, guitar or Hammond organ solos that build off the tune�s melody, and la-la-la vocal choruses. Nothing you haven�t heard before, but rare to hear it done so well in this day and age. And just when you fear it�s getting a bit introspective, the album�s finale is a live blast through �Don�t Send Me No Flowers I Ain�t Dead Yet.�

Maxwell�s is a blurred snapshot. Recorded on a weeknight at the legendary New Jersey club, The Reigning Sound blast through a set that includes covers of Sam Cooke and Sam & Dave as well as a blitz through �Stormy Weather.� Not entirely breakneck, but when Cartwright asks the audience to bear with his guitar playing, �I�m down to three strings,� you know these guys will stop at nothing to get the music across.  VS

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