“I don’t want no favors/ I don’t want no one-night stands,” Reigning Sound’s Greg Cartwright pleads on “North Cackalacky Girl”, the opening track off his band’s Merge debut, Shattered. It’s the first chorus off the LP and quite the statement from the Asheville-via-Memphis singer-songwriter, who aptly sets up what’s to come. Simply put, the ever-prolific Cartwright is an eager heart with only one name, one face, and one pair of hands he wants to hold. He’s 42 — can you argue with him?
He’s a wise 42, though, at least with regard to music. Yet, despite an exhaustive and slightly ADHD back catalog — he’s recorded with The Oblivians, Parting Gifts, Compulsive Gamblers, ’68 Comeback, Deadly Snakes, and Detroit Cobras — Cartwright has always felt more honest with Reigning Sound. An educated guess might point to the fact that he’s been the principal songwriter and the most consistent member throughout the band’s 13 years of revolving lineups. Mind you, this isn’t a guy who’s tested the waters with various outfits; he just lives for music and knows the messy innards of songwriting.
“Not everything my dad liked was something I liked, but I heard it all,” Cartwright explained to LA Record in 2012 of record collecting. “And some things really helped me define the way I wanted to write. The genre doesn’t matter. You’re looking for the songs, and the artist who can deliver the good songs. Maybe the lyrics do it, or there’s an incredible hook and the lyrics are just total bubblegum. It’s gotta be aces in one of those departments.”
Cartwright works with an enviable hand on Shattered, an 11-track collection of soulful R&B straight from a Midwestern garage. It’s the type of sound that might confuse your father into thinking you were messing with his dusty bin of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels LPs. Oh, if only ol’ Mitch could wax poetic like this: “Roll down your mind/ Before it drives you insane/ Cause there’s a whole lot more to this story/ Than the sound of falling rain.”
Once more, Cartwright’s fascination with rare soul and ’60s pop rock pays off. Whether he’s revisiting The Hollies on “If You Gotta Leave”, The Animals on “My My”, Chicken Shack on “Starting New”, The Guess Who on “Never Coming Home”, La De Das on “Baby, It’s Too Late”, or Sam Cooke on “I’m Trying (To Be the Man You Need)”, he sounds comfortable in his own register and remarkably timeless, too. Slightly new faces Dave Amels (organ) and Benny Trokan (bass) would have no problem revisiting a 1966 garage, either.
Although his knack for delivering the “incredible hook” remains Cartwright’s strongest suit, there’s a weighty sense that all of this would mean nothing if not for his insatiable spirit. During “Starting New”, when he sings, “And it could be alright” at the start of its chorus, there are some gooey vibes imbuing his vocals, suggesting he’s just as unsure as anyone else is when lost in love. Such implicit transparency is what separates Cartwright’s Reigning Sound from your average garage act with a taste for Stax Records.
But hey, those hooks are great, too.
Essential Tracks: “Starting New”, “Falling Rain”