1. The Reigning Sound
Reduced to a three-piece after the departure of guitarist/keyboardist Alex Greene, geographically separated with singer/songwriter/guitarist Greg Cartwright's move from Memphis to Asheville, North Carolina, and with rumors of the band's demise spread by the band itself, the Reigning Sound seemed to be on its last legs not too long ago. But with last week's release of the overpowering Too Much Guitar! and with domestic and European tours in the works for the coming year, it looks like this beloved Memphis music machine is ready for at least one more great stretch.
The band had the record that would become Too Much Guitar! in the can last summer when Greene decided to call it quits. But rather than release that record, Cartwright and bandmates Greg Roberson (drums) and Jeremy Scott (bass) set up at Cartwright's Cooper-Young record shop, Legba, with the Lost Sounds' Alicja Trout and Jay Lindsey at the controls, for one marathon session, eventually mixing tracks from each batch of recordings. "Greg [Cartwright] wanted the record to reflect what people are going to see live," says Roberson.
The result is a streamlined punk-soul fusion that's harder than anything the Reigning Sound have ever done, with the motorvating rhythm section of Roberson and Scott setting a foundation for Cartwright's by-now-trademark frenetic guitar and agitated vocals. The soul sound comes through in covers such as a revved-up version of Hank Ballard's "Get It!" and a rattled deconstruction of Sam & Dave's "You Got Me Hummin'." But the soul spirit is also manifested in originals, such as the call-and-response breakdowns of "We Repel Each Other" and the Stax approximation of "Your Love Is a Fine Thing" -- a sort of garage-rock melding of Eddie Floyd's "Love Is a Doggone Good Thing" and Ollie & the Nightingales' "I Know I Got a Good Thing."
"Alex Greene was and is a great player, but things have to change once you get down to a trio," Scott says of the band's new sound. "Where once it was like Dan Penn fronting the Zombies, now it's more like Dan Penn fronting the Troggs." -- Chris Herrington
A classic. Greg [Cartwright] has been an influence not only on stage but in the studio as well. Everything he works on is quality. -- Gary Crump
I guess they can still be listed as an ongoing musical entity. Regardless, I say that Greg Cartwright is the most entertaining frontman around. His unique vocals, the songwriting, the energy they deliver, and the tight rhythm section of Greg Roberson and Jeremy Scott make these guys the best Memphis has to offer. --Dave Green
Even though they get chosen every year, I'm going to dig in and go with the Reigning Sound, more specifically Greg Cartwright. When successful artists can go anywhere to work with whomever they choose as a producer, and they choose Memphis, Easley Studios, and Greg Cartwright, well, that's saying something that we, as a community, need to listen to. Come back home! -- Wayne Leeloy
These guys keep the spark of my generation's garage bands alive, but not in the dying-ember kind of way. More like a roaring furnace. --Pam McGaha
Next local show: Nothing scheduled right now, but you can bet that as long as this band exists, it won't go too long between Memphis shows.
After coming home from a West Coast tour with the Breeders following the band's March performances at Austin's South By Southwest Festival, the hard-touring Lucero was set for another round of shows in the Midwest and Northeast before heading back home again for this weekend's Beale Street Music Festival. But that plan got thrown for a loop when drummer Roy Berry developed back problems that had him rushing to see a chiropractor and the band canceling shows in St. Louis, Des Moines, and Minneapolis.
The band got Berry back on the road in time for an April 15th show in Chicago with fellow locals the Glass and was unloading its equipment at New York's Knitting Factory when the Flyer caught up with guitarist Brian Venable. A founding member of the band, along with frontman Ben Nichols, Venable quit Lucero in late 2002 and was replaced by Todd Gill, who debuted at the band's 2003 SXSW gig and played on the band's current album, That Much Further West. But the constant touring proved too much for Gill, who quit the band earlier this year, clearing the path for Venable's return.
"Roy's fine now. I think we're all just a little beat up," says Venable, who reports having a beer bottle thrown at his head and getting kicked out of a Boston club after arguing with a bouncer. But Venable laughs when asked if he's ready to quit the band again. "Nah, I'm having a blast," he says. "The other day, the rest of the guys spent half an hour doing a radio interview while I spent $85 buying mash-ups on turntable.com. I got one with Missy Elliott vocals over the Clash's 'Rock the Casbah.'" Venable also reports that Southern rap records come dirt-cheap in New York stores. ("I don't think they like the Dirty South much up North," he says.)
After playing the Beale fest this weekend, Lucero plans to take it easy for a while. "We're basically gonna take the summer off --just go out for weekends --so we can work on the next record," Venable says. "There are two or three new songs that we've been playing on tour. One's really solid, the others are hit-or-miss. And Ben's probably got six or seven he's written that we need to go home and flesh out."
What label the next record will come out on is an unresolved issue, however. New York indie Tiger Style, which released That Much Further West, has decided to quit putting out new records, which has Lucero label-shopping. "We've got plenty of labels interested. We're just waiting it out right now," Venable says. In the meantime, one new project is ready to go: The band will be recording a split-single with friends and former tourmates Against Me! later this summer, possibly at Jim Dickinson's Zebra Ranch studio. The single is scheduled for a January release on the punk/indie label Jade Tree. --CH
As much as it pains me to include them on this list, it's undeniable that Lucero is one of the best bands in town. Despite the fact that the majority of the male population finds Ben's voice excruciatingly painful, they still love him. No one else can make songs about cigarettes and alcohol sound so good. --Amanda Dugger
I was floored when I saw them last June -- the last time they played my venue. I had seen them so many times before but never like this. It was a powerful show, and they had grown by leaps and bounds as a live band. Their sound contains the right mix of genres that will keep their crowd diverse and coming back for more. And Ben what can I say? He's sooo HOT! --Dave Green
These guys have become less of a local gig and more of a national sensation. (Ha!) Just search on eBay for their records and posters. That shit is going for a lot of money. Their local shows are still crazy, though. --Matt Cole
Lucero will always play a vital role in Memphis music no matter what they do. -- Lyndsi Potts
Next local show:
Saturday, May 1st, at 2:30 p.m., on the AutoZone Stage at the Beale Street Music Fest
3. The North Mississippi Allstars
Recognized since the release of their 2000 debut, "Shake Hands With Shorty", as one of the scene's most original and vital contemporary blues bands, the North Mississippi Allstars (brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, DuWayne Burnside, and Chris Chew) used that blues base as launchpad last September with the release of the band's third album, Polaris, which proffered an expansive vision of Southern rock.
The transition from hill-country blues band to arena-worthy rockers has gone smoothly, with the Allstars bringing their new mix of Big Star/Oasis/Replacements-meets-Kimbrough/Burnside/McDowell along on the same staggering touring schedule that has made them among rock's consummate road warriors. So, if you're wondering why you won't be seeing them at this weekend's Beale Street Music Festival, you might check out a tour schedule that has them bouncing around Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands this week.
But the band will be back in the area soon, to headline a massive blues and roots-rock bill at the Mud Island Ampitheatre Saturday, May 22nd. Organized by local booking agency Snax, the bill will also feature such like-minded artists as Alvin Youngblood Hart, Duff Dorrough, and Cary Hudson. --CH
Doing what they do best: a great live show and respect for their roots: Othar [Turner], Junior [Kimbrough], and Lee [Baker]. -- Gary Crump
Still mixing up black Delta dirt blues with red Georgia clay Southern rock for the new tribal music. -- Lisa Lumb
Next local show:
Saturday, May 22nd, at the Mud Island Ampitheatre
7. The Lost Sounds
It's been a busy year for the Lost Sounds: They've done three full-length tours in the U.S. and spent more than a month hitting clubs in Europe. After returning stateside, the group's co-founders, Alicja Trout and Jay Lindsey, recorded sessions for the Reigning Sound's new album, Too Much Guitar!. And, most recently, the Lost Sounds followed the Reigning Sound to In the Red Records after three years on the Empty label.
"We wanted to try something bigger, and [label owner] Larry Hardy could help us financially, with stuff like tour support," Trout explains. "We'd heard through the grapevine that he liked us, so when we made it out to L.A., we talked. Plus, we're friends with a lot of the bands on his label," she adds, citing the Piranhas, Clone Defects, the Fuse, and the Ponys, in addition to the Reigning Sound.
Fans can expect a sonic shift on the next Lost Sounds EP, which will be released this month, and on their new album, due in September. "When I was in the Clears, I knew I didn't want to make that kind of music forever," Trout says, referring to the synth-pop group she fronted in the mid-'90s, "but on our next album, there will definitely be more of those Clears-type elements. I'm really happy with the way those songs came out. Sometimes I get sick of the dark stuff." --Andria Lisle
Jay [Lindsey] and Alicja [Trout] are a dynamic duo. This band seriously rocks and is one of the few in the fickle Memphis scene with a devout following. -- Amanda Dugger
Jay Reatard and Alicja Trout [are or have been] members of the Lost Sounds, the Final Solutions, Mouse Rocket, the Reatards, the Clears, Nervous Patterns, the River City Tanlines, and the Ultra Cats. And each band is great! --Scott Rogers
Next local show:
No local shows currently scheduled. But Trout's band Mouse Rocket will have a record-release show Saturday, June 5th, at the Hi-Tone CafÇ.
8. Free Sol
This relatively new local band won $10,000 in prizes at the Mid-South Grammy Showcase at the New Daisy Theatre last November, among them a performance slot at this week's Beale Street Music Festival and recording time at Midtown's Young Avenue Sound.
A seven-piece band, the moniker Free Sol refers to both the band and its frontman, Christopher "Free Sol" Anderson, previously a member of the hip-hop act Sol Katz. With Free Sol, a hip-hop and neo-soul base branches out to include elements of rock, jazz, and funk, as the alternately rapped and sung vocals of Anderson and Candace Ashir play off each other. All of this is captured on 11:11, the confident debut that was released last week.
The last time the local Recording Academy chapter held a similar talent search, the winner was Saliva. Free Sol might reasonably hope for similar fortunes. --CH
Free Sol arrived on the local scene with a ferocity, charm, and intelligence that have not been seen since the glory days of Isaac Hayes. From sweet, melodic bump-and-grind numbers to hardcore political and social commentaries to raging party anthems, Free Sol brings it REAL to the people. -- Wayne Leeloy
Next local show:
Sunday, May 2nd, at 2:20 p.m., on the Budweiser Stage at the Beale Street Music Fest
10. Three 6 Mafia
Newcomers like Yo Gotti and Kavious are shaking up the Memphis rap scene, but, nevertheless, Three 6 Mafia and their Hypnotize Minds coalition still reign supreme. The veterans' lock on the local talent -- most recently, Three 6 founders DJ Paul, Lord Infamous, and Juicy J recruited Lil Wyte and Da Headbussaz -- is phenomenal. And with Juicy J's brother, Project Pat, locked up until 2005, many naysayers thought that Three 6 Mafia was on its way out.
But 2003's Da Unbreakables proves that Three 6 Mafia remains on solid ground. Next, Three 6 Mafia jumped on the "screwed and chopped" phenomenon, releasing a slowed-down version of the album that was remixed by Swisha House's Michael Watts.
Now Three 6 Mafia are readying the release of the straight-to-DVD drama Choices II and its accompanying soundtrack, both of which should hit the streets this summer along with solo albums from DJ Paul and Juicy J. Look for the group to drop some of their new tracks during their performance at the Beale Street Music Festival this weekend. --AL
This crew has a member [Project Pat] releasing albums while incarcerated and, to me, that's just as difficult as doing it from beyond the grave like Tupac. I bump their most recent CD, Da Unbreakables, in my car all the time. -- James Manning
Next local show:
Sunday, May 2nd, at 9:40 p.m. on the AutoZone Stage at the Beale Street Music Fest