Reigning Sound – Love and Curses

January 01, 1970

(In the Red)


Was there ever a cooler band name than Reigning Sound? It’s
significant there’s no “the” in the name, too; anyone who’s ever seen the band
live can testify to how fully the sonic immersion is, from patented blues-punk
garage raveups to sleek Southern soul balladry. Meanwhile, for those not
necessarily dwelling upon that moniker’s suggestive pun, there’s also something
positively regal about the music, a
timelessness and a grace that’s often hard to find these days.


Those are some of the thoughts that ran through my mind
about a month ago when I saw Reigning Sound play a CD release party in their
hometown of Asheville, NC. RS mainman Greg Cartwright is a local
fixture, ldoing DJ sets as well as the occasional solo gig while sitting in
with other outfits such as Suttree and Rodriguez (whose East Coast backing band
comprises Asheville
musicians). With Reigning Sound, though, he’s got something unique and he
always seems uncommonly energized as a result. Watching the group onstage –
Cartwright on vocals and guitar, keyboardist Dave Amels and the powerhouse
rhythm section of Lance Wille (drums) and David Wayne Gay (bass) – it was
obvious the chemistry they’ve developed, and they charged through those raveups
and finessed those ballads with an easy-going confidence that simultaneously
smeared grins across the faces of audience members while inciting one and all
to shake and shimmy and maybe even pogo a little, too.


Most rock fans know that Cartwright originally hails from
Memphis, where he achieved garage/punk notoriety in the ‘90s with the Oblivians
and Compulsive Gamblers (the former got back together this summer for a
European tour with the Dirtbombs, while the latter recently did a pair of
reunion shows in Memphis – Cartwright’s a busy man). After that he formed
Reigning Sound and cut several albums before moving to Asheville in 2004, at which point he
assembled an entire new edition of the group. A couple of records have come out
since the relocation to NC, notably Live
At Goner Records
, a document of a 2005 show, but the album at hand marks
the first official studio full-length from the Tarheel incarnation of Reigning
Sound. It’s near-flawless, too.


To a certain degree, Love
and Curses
picks up where the previous studio platter, 2004’s Too Much Guitar, left off; if you know
Cartwright and his influences (most of them deep-vault, crate-digging ‘60s
icons and artifacts), you know you’ll get a little garage, a little soul, a
little punk and a little pop, plus several obscure covers thrown in as part of
Cartwright’s ongoing mission to enlighten and educate the record-buying public.
Beyond that general blueprint, however, Love
and Curses
marks a significant stride forward, boasting a beefed-up sound –
the bottom end is particularly USDA-approved – and a widescreen quality taking
the place of TMG‘s thicker,
ultra-trebly feel. Cartwright has also matured as a vocalist, at times
tempering his inclination to yelp and easing into  – dare I say it – a sexy rasp, which may or
may not have anything to do with some of the sexy distaff rockers he’s been
hanging out with over the last few years (Detroit Cobras, the Ettes, the
Shangri-Las’ Mary Weiss), but it’s a satisfying component of the overall RS
sound just the same.


Songwise, there’s just one reworking – a Nuggets-worthy slice of hard-twanging,
organ-throbbing call-and-response called “Stick Up for Me,” by the Glass Sun, a
Ypsilanti, Mich., trio operative 1964-72 – because after five years, Cartwright
has obviously built up a stockpile of tunes. And what tunes they are: from
opening track “Break It” (a sweeping slice of Phil Spector-worthy cinematic
soul wherein the boy tells the girl, of his broken heart, “it still thinks you
are mine”) and the astonishingly potent, minor chord jangler “Trash Talk” (with
its Searchers-like feel and lyric notion of whisper campaigns and how “the truth
can hurt as much as a lie”); to raging stomper “If I Can’t Come Back,” (a stylistic
successor to RS Too Much Guitar classic “We Repel Each Other”) and the equally thumping “Dangerous Game” (which
Cartwright originally wrote for the Weiss, whose 2007 album of the same name he
produced). Throughout, the entire band plays with an urgency and a passion that
fully serves the tunes, all of which offer ample evidence that Cartwright’s one
of America’s
greatest songwriters currently operating.


During the late-night drive home from the above-mentioned concert,
over the radio waves came R.E.M. chestnut “Voice Of Harold,” and at the point
where Michael Stipe sings, “Suddenly, you know they are real – they mean it!” I
was struck by the notion that the lyric could serve as a pretty handy manifesto
for Cartwright & Co. The band’s tight-but-loose vibe, the shakin’ and the
shimmyin’ in the crowd, the pure dance party authenticity that reaches back
decades while touching the eternal teenager within…


Reigning Sound: they’re real, and they definitely mean it.


Standout Tracks: “Trash
Talk,” “Debris,” “If I Can’t Come Back” FRED MILLS



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