The latest musical enterprise from Greg Cartwright, one of the driving forces behind local punk/garage-rock bands the Oblivians and the Compulsive Gamblers, The Reigning Sound have established themselves as one of the city's finest rock bands with a recent string of wonderful club gigs. The band's recorded debut, Break Up, Break Down (Sympathy For the Record Industry; Grade: A-), delivers on the promise of those live shows, presenting Cartwright's new band as a more garage-rockin' update of the Byrds. Break Up, Break Down features the chiming guitars and sweet melodies of the best mid-'60s folk-rock but adds the organ textures (Alex Greene) and rockin', R&B-oriented rhythm section (drummer Greg Roberson and bassist Jeremy Scott) of the same period's garage-rock scene. Cartwright then pushes this sound to another level with the smart, subtle songwriting and distinctly soulful vocals that he has brought to all of his projects. The resulting hybrid is an alternate take on what one-time Byrd Gram Parsons called Cosmic American Music.
The record is a pretty big departure for an artist best known for the Oblivians' trash-punk clamor. Relatively sedate and extremely melodic, Break Up, Break Down boasts a Beach Boys cover (Pet Sounds' "Waiting For the Day") and even ventures into country territory with a cover of the Everly Brothers' "So Sad" and the lovely "As Long." The latter features Papa Top's West Coast Turnaround's John Whittemore on steel guitar and Lucero's Brian Venable on mandolin.
The record begins and ends very strongly but sags slightly in the middle. My faves are the two openers -- "Since When" and "I Don't Care." The latter is a kiss-off to an ex-lover where both the lyrics and vocal phrasing have a distinctly Dylanesque feel, Cartwright spitting lyrics such as "You told me repeatedly that you had aged beyond your years/But you don't have to scream your mantra standing so close to my ears" as Alex Greene colors the spaces in the music with great organ fills. Easily one of the best local records you'll hear this year.
The quirky, sunny synth pop on Shelby Bryant's Cloud-Wow Music (Smells Like Records; Grade: A-) is bizarre and personal in a way that might conjure other pop oddballs such as Syd Barrett, Daniel Johnston, or Donovan, but the music Bryant creates on this record is really such a genre unto itself that it deserves the unique moniker Bryant has bestowed upon it. Cloud-wow music is an apt description for a collection that sounds and feels every bit as innocent and dreamy as its cover art. The solo debut from Bryant, who might be best known around town as a member of the mid-'90s new-wave band the Clears, is an acquired taste, for sure, but if you can hear it on its own terms it is really quite beautiful.
Full of swooning melodies and sly, weird lyrics, a love-song epiphany on Cloud-Wow Music takes the form of something as ineffably perfect as this moment from "The Walk" -- "My pants are tight/My mind is loose/Not frightened The sky above is speaking some inane thing to me." Bryant might be one of the few people on the planet who could sing the lyric "My mind is on high/A puff above the clouds in the sky" and have the listener absolutely convinced that it isn't a drug reference.
Bryant will have an official release party for Cloud-Wow Music on Friday, June 15th, at Shangri-La Records. Look for more on Bryant in that week's issue of the Flyer.
Bugging us haters with their "Orange Mound killer look," rap collective (more than 10 MCs are credited on the record) Concrete Mound come on pretty strong on their eponymous debut (Po' Boy; Grade: C+), but unlike early Three 6 Mafia, for instance, the group seems to be merely reporting the facts of a rough life rather than spiking their gangsta tales with calculated sensationalism. The backing tracks, which rely far too heavily on a synth sound pitched somewhere between the horror-movie-soundtrack sound of Three 6 and the laid-back funk of "classic" Dr. Dre, are pretty tepid, but the rapping and the lyrics are more accomplished. Concrete Mound's "Hard Times" is no match for Run-DMC's, but it's still pretty good and contains the following Inspirational Verse: "The system is against us/But that ain't new/They say we all act alike/But nigga that ain't true."
In terms of content -- lyrical and vocal -- this promising and occasionally powerful debut is better than the letter grade I've given it, but I docked it a couple notches due to poor sound quality.
Vocalist and harmonica player in the defunct local blues band the junkyardmen, Billy Gibson goes solo again with The Nearness of You (Inside Memphis; Grade: B), a record that finds him crooning and blowing through a batch of jazz and pre-rock pop standards with solid results. Gibson and his band deliver decent takes on the likes of Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" and Hoagy Carmichael's title track, while Gibson steps to the mike for serviceable interpretations of songs such as "When I Fall In Love With You" and "Sweet Lorraine." My favorite track, though, is actually the only Gibson original on the set -- the bluesy, piano-driven "Darling, Please Come Home."
Blues Is My Business (Lucy; Grade: C+), the second solo album from former John Lee Hooker sideman-turned-Mid-Southerner Paul Wood, is a by-the-numbers but well-executed blues-rock effort. Recorded locally at Sounds Unreel Studio with a host of local studio stars -- Jim Spake, Scott Thompson, Dave Smith, Steve Potts, Reba Russell -- Blues Is My Business features Wood's workmanlike vocals and flashy, bar-blues guitar and takes the blues itself as subject matter on originals such as "Everything Dies But the Blues" and "The Mojo Man," which begins with a promise the record doesn't quite live up to: "I used to boogie with John Lee Hooker/Shook Muddy Waters' hand/They sent me here to play the blues for you/'Cause I'm the mojo man."
If we can believe the trendspotters, then hair-metal nostalgia is on the rise, and, judging from their new eponymous disc (RubyFlex; Grade: C+), Bad Apple seems primed to take advantage of that. More old-school arena/boogie-metal than most hard-rock bands around today, Bad Apple's album is sort of what Saliva might sound like without the hip-hop influences, pop hooks, or major-label sheen. Songs like "Mountain" and "Star" have a bit of a Southern-rock feel, but the most memorable song is also the oddest: It's hard to tell if the Zeppelinesque "Hippie Festival" is intended to be a joke (it's very possible that it is), but it's pretty funny regardless.
You can e-mail Chris Herrington at firstname.lastname@example.org.