Over several studio albums, Reigning Sound’s musical focal point has never been easy to pinpoint. Unlike a swath of other experimental maestros, Greg Cartwright’s insistence on inconsistency is a really good thing. As de facto ringleader since the band’s inception in 2001, Cartwright has been surrounded by a veritable turnstile committee of agile musicians, cultivating varying muses based on the strengths afforded him.Shattered, Reigning Sound’s first album since 2009’s Love & Curses, is yet another bend in the road, positing soulful rockers, scrappy R&B ballads and rowdy pop numbers in brilliant balance.
The album opens with the roadhouse rocker “North Cackalacky Girl,” with warm organs, a threading bass line and smidges of the garage-soul that permeates Cartwright’s songwriting sensibilities. As somewhat of an unsung guru of the garage-punk milieu, Cartwright’s seemingly effortless rock ‘n’ roll panache positively oozes from this first track, Cartwright howling, “Let’s get on with the show/I got a car and it’s ready to go/money to burn and the night is young/so let’s play the game.” It’s what Saturday night in America used to sound like, and that reckless abandon and all its nostalgia pulls you into Cartwright’s wonderful world of yesteryear hubris.
With Cartwright as the one constant in Reigning Sound, despite its disparate output, Shattered is as good a representation of the band as any, showcasing lip-quivering sentimentality on tunes like the eerily bouncy tear-jerker “Never Coming Home,” which features thick textures of strings and rolling drums to Cartwright’s Memphisian drawl. The last-minute substitution of a band to round-out the recordings for Shattered ended up being a sort of blessing in disguise, as the rhythm section of Brooklyn’s The Jay Vons filled in and have seemingly clicked into some kind of cosmic brotherhood with Cartwright’s oeuvre, casting light and shadows (as the lyrics to “If You Gotta Leave” profess) to a collection of timeless compositions.
The band opens up again on the psychedelic rocker “You Did Wrong,” where they slide into a rhythm and groove to write home about, dishing tasteful changes and up-tempo flips of sonic delight with acid-blotter bass, tambourine flourishes and liquid organs.
“Once More” ends side one of Shattered, again reinforcing the by-now certainty that the album really has a song for every mood, this one in particular a bossa-nova shuffle perfect for a moonlit slow-dance at some lost lake, Cartwright cooing like a gruffy Van Morrison before going full-on Them on side two’s first track “My My.”
“My my,” as an expression, seems to be a great way to sum up the rarity of such a boldly traditional, and fantastically well-rounded album of rock ‘n’ roll.