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Reigning Sound - Live at Goner

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Artist: Reigning Sound

Album: Live at Goner

Label: Goner

Review date: Apr. 7, 2009

The last time Reigning Sound made a live album, for 2005’s The Reigning Sound: Live at Maxwell’s, the playing got so heated that Cartwright ended with just three working guitar strings. (He is apparently not the kind of guy who travels with a rack of guitars and an underling to tune them for him.) This time is much mellower. He only nearly gets electrocuted, right in the middle of “Two Thieves.”

Live recording is fraught with difficulties, unpredictable and occasionally dangerous. Most bands do one live record, two at most, and certainly not two in a row. But the Reigning Sound is so clearly a “live” band, that it sort of makes sense. Even their studio records sound like live records, minus only the crowd noise and banter. And weirdly, the sound on this particular live recording, laid down at Memphis’ Goner Records store in June 2005, is sharp and clear, much less fuzzy than Too Much Guitar. This version of “We Repel Each Other,” (coming right after the electrical problem) is spectacularly tight, fast and aggressive. The album’s take was like being bludgeoned with a baseball bat – this one is like being cut to pieces by razors. You’ve never heard the words this clearly, never felt the gut punch of the whole band shouting “Hey!” like this.

The Live at Goner draws songs from all the Reigning Sound’s studio albums: “I’m So Thankful” from the debut Break Up Break Down; “Time Bomb High School,” “Reptile Style,” “I’m Holding Out,” and “Straight Shooter” from Time Bomb High School; and “”Repel” and “Drowning” from Too Much Guitar. There’s at least one unreleased song, “Girl,” which may turn up on the Reigning Sound album promised for later this year. The set sticks mostly to the band’s rough-housing, blues-garage palette, giving short shift to the fluid 1960s soul balladry that Cartwright sometimes wraps his ragged voice around. The sequence from “What Could I Do?” and “New Romance” and “Two Thieves” start to right this balance, but then Cartwright gets electro-shocked into a mood switch and the more rocking “Repel.”

There’s also a local flavor to this album, with Cartwright, now living in North Carolina, revisiting his old stomping grounds in Memphis. “I’m back in Tennessee, so I got to play all my ‘back in Tennessee’ songs,” says Cartwright mid-set, and the covers of Carl Perkins’ “Tennessee,” Sam the Sham and the Patriots’ “Black Sheep” and Dan Penn’s “Do Something” give this album a warm, southern slant. “Black Sheep” with its shimmering guitar work and rampant tambourine seems an almost perfect fit for Cartwright. It’s pitched right on the fulcrum between country blues and garage rock, a sly anti-hero-worshipping song.

The Tennessee songs set Live at Goner apart from Live at Maxwell’s and all the other Reigning Sound material. Hearing Cartwright cover Dan Penn’s “Do Something” (also recorded by the Swinging Yo Yos) is worth the price of the ticket all by itself, given that Penn is a primary architect of the southern rock and soul mansion where the Reigning Sound lives. Moreover, even though Live at Goner shares four songs with Live at Maxwell’s, it’s a whole different experience, less hemmed in by technical problems, more relaxed and easy-going. Live at Maxwell’s was a triumph over adversity. Live at Goner is a welcome home party. If you love the Reigning Sound – and why wouldn’t you? – you almost surely have room for both.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Reigning Sound

Too Much Guitar

Love and Curses

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