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Catching Up with Cartwright

After a five-year recording hiatus, the Reigning Sound returns.

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Greg Cartwright formed three modern-classic Memphis bands before relocating to Asheville, North Carolina, six years ago: the Compulsive Gamblers, the Oblivians, and the Reigning Sound.

Lately, he's spent more time in his hometown playing with the technically defunct Gamblers and Oblivians than with his current band, which has been on a quasi-hiatus in the years between 2004's Too Much Guitar and the band's new Love and Curses.

The Oblivians reunited earlier this year for a European tour, playing a sold-out warm-up show at the Hi-Tone before setting off, while the Compulsive Gamblers reformed for the recent Antenna club reunion show and then for Gonerfest.

"It could always happen again," Cartwright says of the reunions, particularly the Oblivians, whose cult following has grown in the decade since the band called it quits.

"I don't think it will ever be a regular thing. And I doubt we'll ever make another record. But I enjoy the dynamic of the three of us [Cartwright, Jack Yarber, and Eric Friedl] playing together. And it's still fun. That's what you learn when you get back together and do some shows. I'm not opposed to doing it again if the situation is right."

The Reigning Sound remains Cartwright's primary outlet, though the band has been absent from record store racks and Memphis clubs for a while.

"Too Much Guitar came out after I'd already moved," Cartwright says. "It was all in the can before I left. Once I moved and it came out, I was busy trying to get settled [in Asheville] for a couple of years, and then once I got settled, a lot of work picked up with other bands — trying to help people produce their records or playing on people's records or writing material on people's records. That kind of took front and center for a couple of years. Trying to get a new Reigning Sound in place took a bit of time too."

When Cartwright relocated to Asheville, the only Memphis-based bandmate who remained in the band was bassist Jeremy Scott, but soon even Scott didn't fit as a long-distance bandmate, necessitating Cartwright to put together an entirely new band.

In the meantime and on one track, Cartwright took on other projects, producing records with George Soule, the Ettes, and a high-profile collaboration with former Shangri-Las singer Mary Weiss, and joining up with garage-rockers the Detroit Cobras as a playing/writing/producing auxiliary member.

On another track, Cartwright began assembling a new Reigning Sound, first adding drummer Lance Wille, then bassist Dave Wayne Gay (of the Kentucky alt-country act Freakwater), and finally keyboard player Dave Amels, whom Cartwright met while working on the Mary Weiss record.

"Things were in flux for a while and I didn't want to go into the studio with a band that wasn't going to be the band that toured behind the material," Cartwright says about the five-year gap between Reigning Sound records.

Partly recorded in Memphis (at Ardent) and in Asheville, Love and Curses is a somewhat softer-edged record than Too Much Guitar, which was recorded primarily as a trio. The addition of Amels has brought the band closer to what it sounded like on Break Up, Break Down and Time Bomb High School, when Memphis keyboardist Alex Greene was in the band.

"It felt more complete once I had Dave [Amels]," Cartwright says of the current lineup. "I was kind of missing having keyboards and being able to use organ and piano. It really helps to fill things out underneath. I'm not a real busy guitar player. I have to focus most of my energy on the vocal, so it's helpful to have someone who can play melody lines beneath me."

Love and Curses is comfort food for Reigning Sound fans, but it does take a couple of detours. "Stick Up For Me," the record's only cover, is an obscure '60s protest anthem from Detroit band the Glass Sun. It's a departure for the album musically and the band lyrically. And the closing "Banker and a Liar" is a Dylanesque lyric with a gypsy-music feel, sounding perhaps more like a Compulsive Gamblers song than anything previously heard on a Reigning Sound album.

"The good thing about the Reigning Sound is I think all of the fans realize at this point that I'm not going to keep making the same record over and over again," Cartwright says. "It's always going to sound like me, but they don't expect each record to sound exactly like the last one or even for the production quality to sound the same. Things change. The only constant is me. If you like what I do, you'll probably like the next record as well."

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