Cartwright returns to Memphis for this collection of minimalist garage rock, pop, and country-tinged soul.
‘A Little More Time with Reigning Sound’ is the band’s seventh album and newest since 2014’s ‘Shattered.’ With the help of producer Scott Bomar and original Reigning Sound Memphis lineup of Jeremy Scott (bass), Greg Roberson (drums), and Alex Greene (keyboards), frontman Greg Cartwright reaches back to their classic garage band roots with first-generation rockabilly, R&B, and country flourishes.
Cartwright moved to Asheville, North Carolina in 2005 but he remains a respected cult figure in Tennessee. He’s not a prolific songwriter, and he comes out with a new album when he’s damn good and ready. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown found him back in Memphis last year, where he hooked up with Bomar at Electraphonic Recording. Unable to work with his New York-based lineup, Cartwright brought in Scott, Roberson, and Greene, who last recorded together on ‘Home for Orphans’ in 2005.
Bomar brought the best out of these songs, using vintage analogue equipment, including a bare-bones eight-track tape machine. The result is warm, lived-in, familiar, and friendly. Cartwright mostly brings to mind John Sebastian and young Stiff Records-era Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, but with a slight southwestern Tennessee accent, taking on lost love, fond memories from a distance, and relationships that are at the end of their tether, while making room for new beginnings.
Tongue-in-cheek opening rocker ‘Let’s Do It Again’ and ‘Make It Up’ sound like early Reigning Sound, imbued with the spirit of chunky guitar garage bands like The Seeds. Tasteful organ from Greene shines on ‘A Little More Time,’ with the present overshadowed by a traumatic past: “In the back of my mind there’s a tragedy / that won’t let me be who I want to be / I’m just asking for a little more time.” The bittersweet ‘Oh Christine’ tells the story of a sailor finally leaving a lover but wishing her well. There is a wide emotional range on the wistful and beautifully arranged ‘I’ll Be Your Man,’ ‘A Good Life’ (“What if we started doing what we’re told?”), and ‘Just Say When,’ a duet with Coco Hames from Parting Gifts. ‘You Don’t Know What You’re Missing’ is flawless ‘60s pop that could easily have been a long lost track from 1965. ‘Moving & Shaking’ paints a portrait of an opportunist and features impressive pedal steel guitar from John Whittemore. Reigning Sound often play unusual and interesting cover songs at their live shows, such as teen idol Adam Faith’s mid-Sixties hit ‘I Don’t Need That Kind of Lovin’,’ included here.
The closer ‘On and On’ reminds us that “love is the only choice,” rounding out the album’s wide-ranging and diverse styles, like Memphis’s own musical history. 2020 was a challenging time for many artists, but many of them, such as Cartwright, found inspiration and freedom in the quiet days. For Reigning Sound it sounds like it was a year well spent.