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Reigning men 

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Compared to Greg Cartwright, most self-proclaimed rock 'n' roll rebels seem tame and affected. Cartwright, leader of the Memphis garage-rock trio Reigning Sound, is a positively feral performer with unerring musical instincts.

Cartwright first attracted underground attention as a member of Compulsive Gamblers - one of the great unsung bands of the '90s - and went on to form the anarchic Oblivians. In both of those groups, Cartwright shared star billing, but Reigning Sound is his show all the way, and that's what makes it the ultimate, undiluted manifestation of his aesthetic.

Cartwright was garage-rock way before it was cool, but he's always given the form a distinctly Memphis touch. He's a white guy who has absorbed the essence of soul, gospel, and blues, and figured out a way to give them a fresh spin. On Too Much Guitar, for example, he runs libidinous roughshod over the obscure Stax gem "You Got Me Hummin'," Hank Ballard's delirious "Get It," and Memphis icon Jim Dickinson's "Uptight Tonight."

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Too much guitar
Reigning Sound
(In The Red Records)
Those songs perfectly complement Cartwright's originals, which are classic shots of adrenaline, from the overdriven surf-pop of "I'll Cry" to the cynical stomp of "We Repel Each Other." Throughout, his voice is the strangled yowl of a wounded animal, and he's so committed to feeling over precision, he thinks nothing of burying those vocals under sheaths of rhythm guitar.

On one of the album's best tracks, he sings, "If you can't give me everything/don't you give me nothing at all," which pretty well sums up this band's go-for-broke spirit. Along those lines, Cartwright is amply aided by bassist Jeremy Scott and drummer Greg Roberson, who underpin the anarchy with a tight funkiness missing from most bands in this idiom.

Reigning Sound have no use for the intellectual, and they're never deep or sophisticated. They're merely the most rocking band on the planet. • - gilbert garcia

By Gilbert Garcia


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