About a year and a half ago, my wife Jane and I took a no-kids weekend trip to Asheville, NC, to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. At dinner that Saturday at an Indian restaurant I told Jane that one reason I had been curious about Asheville was that Greg Cartwright had relocated his family there from his native Memphis a couple years earlier. Over the past few years I had explored Cartwright’s records with the Reigning Sound (and some of his earlier work with the Oblivians and Compulsive Gamblers), and had been impressed by a Reigning Sound show in DC in 2004, particularly by Cartwright’s impassioned vocals and economical guitar work on a left-handed Gretsch Tennessean.
With Cartwright as the leader and only constant member, the Reigning Sound has put out four studio records and a couple of live discs since 2001. In his spare time he has also done production work for the Detroit Cobras and others, and he wrote songs for and played on the 2007 comeback album by Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las. Since the early 90s he has channeled his vast record collection, heavy on Memphis soul, doo-wop, and 60s garage and girl groups, into dozens of gritty songs and many more sweaty live shows.
On our way out of the restaurant a family waited to enter. I immediately recognized the dad as the man himself. Had he been summoned by our conversation? Cartwright’s wife, kids, and in-laws seemed genuinely shocked that I knew who he was, much less that I was a fan. "This is so cool!" said his young son at the effect his dad's music had on a complete stranger. As we were leaving, Cartwright told us he would be dj-ing at a bar that night. Six hours later Jane and I found ourselves in a dive called The Admiral watching a dozen or so college kids groove to the ultra-obscure (and totally great) soul and garage 45s Cartwright spun from his corner perch. I wanted to beam every music-loving friend I had to that spot right then.
Last year the Reigning Sound released Love and Curses, their best record yet. The finely detailed and compassionate character sketch "Polly Anne" shows the depth of Cartwright's songwriting. The one minute and 36 second title track from the 2002 release Time Bomb High School is a more characteristic blast of punk-inflected rock n roll with a noticeable Memphis edge to the vocal and brief guitar break.
Between family responsibilities and day jobs, the Reigning Sound don't play that often away from their home turf, but if and when they do make it to your neck of the woods, don't miss 'em.