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Reigning Sound - Too Much Guitar

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Artist: Reigning Sound

Album: Too Much Guitar

Label: In the Red

Review date: Jul. 20, 2004

After two relatively clean garage records, Memphis's Reigning Sound messed around under the hood forToo Much Guitar, and came out with a greased-up rock and roll masterpiece. This is more than great, grimy Memphis rock. Too Much Guitar compares to the Rolling Stones in their heyday, and that's no hyperbole. The galloping psych-pop "Your Love Is a Fine Thing" and the twangy ballad "Drowning" are that strong.

The group's earlier work veered from 1950s smoothness to '80s jangle, and none of it hinted at the newfound energy on Guitar. The 14 songs all fall into a late-'60s hard rock style, with overtones of soul and country that influenced the best rock of that era. Like all In The Red bands, it's scruffier and punkier than the source. But this also has a spark that's rare in any era.

At first listen, it sounds like they might have been bit too deliberately lo-fi, since the songs themselves have a classic completeness to them. But then the Rolling Stone comparisons really sink in, and the album's title becomes more telling. Superficially, most of the Stones best records were not as well-produced as their peers. A track like "Street Fighting Man" has tinny guitar, piano, snare, maracas and vocals all fighting for the mid-range. It's a mess. Except, it works perfectly. Bands have long copied the Stones' pastiche of American styles, but few ever come close to matching it. These guys do. "You Got Me Hummin'" pounds with leaden boogie power chord, yet the vocal trade-offs are convincingly soulful. What isn't immediately apparent is that it's a Sam and Dave cover. There's not a hint of the cliches of a rock band doing soul.

It's hard to say if Greg Cartwright's voice is permanently throaty, or just straining to be heard above the roar, but he gets across a load of emotion while buried in the mix. His verses are often as memorable as the choruses. His real skill is in finding a slight change for the coda, or a third section which changes the texture, moving the song beyond three-chord basics. The four covers on Too Much Guitar blend with the originals, neatly evoking the era before writing your own material became the mark of authenticity.

But then, Reigning Sound are from Memphis, a city that's been on the sidelines musically for years. Trendiness is out the equation. Memphis is still an eccentric place, still a melting pot of urban and rural, but its recent dormancy was out of character. Too Much Guitar bring the story up to date. Reigning Sound encompass the mix of bluster and drawl, noise and tradition that made Memphis famous, and might make it famous again.

By Ben Donnelly

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