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Reigning Sound
Love And Curses Steve Jelbert , October 9th, 2009 14:38

Recently I read It Still Lives, Amanda Petrusich's hapless attempt to seek out and define that music now labelled as 'Americana' (I didn't buy it; I borrowed it from the library). Between her many descriptions of atrocious meals eaten alone I was struck by just how limited was her definition of the form, effectively restricting it to anything that sounds distant and/or mysterious enough to be mentioned in Greil Marcus's Mystery Train, itself an imagining of a cultural tradition. Clearly, folklore will eat itself.

Why shouldn't a quixotic attempt to recreate Phil Spector's Wall of Sound (itself as American as Hollywood) on a Wal-Mart budget be less valid a national expression as any number of Brooklyn incomers armed with Harry Smith's anthology and little imagination? It's not as if Greg Cartwright (for effectively he is Reigning Sound — the name stays with him) is unaware of American pop history. The last line-up backed Shangri-La Mary Weiss on her Cartwright-penned and produced comeback, 2007's Dangerous Game, and were in line to back that American original and fellow Memphian Arthur Lee before his untimely death. He writes great songs, chooses great songs to cover and yet, presumably due to his history in the Oblivians and the brilliant Compulsive Gamblers, he's always plonked in the garage rock box.

This, the fourth Reigning Sound studio album, is another ridiculously effortless collection, less frenetic than 2004's raucous Too Much Guitar (which might have been better titled Too Much Cymbal). The present band cruise through country-tinged rock'n'roll that owes more to Dylan's Nashville-recorded Blonde On Blonde than any number of garage rock revivals. Although it may not be groundbreaking, it's certainly satisfying. 'Break It' and 'Dangerous Game' are recycled from the Weiss record, the latter a little jewel, as neatly constructed as whatever example of miniaturised technology you fancy referencing. The Hold Steady would certainly delight in classic rock as satisfying as 'The Bells' or the raucous 'Debris'.

But the greatest joy is in the details; the solemnly obvious gorgeous organ and guitar break on 'Something To Hold Onto' (or is it 'It's Through'? The titles and lyric sheet rarely match); the pounding, buried, naggingly familiar glam riff on 'If I Can't Come Back'; the stunning precision of their take on Glass Sun's sixties garage obscurity 'Stick Over Me', here renamed 'Stick Up For Me' and recast as a blue collar anthem. (They have form in this field — their version of the Carpet Baggers equally unknown 'Let Yourself Go' on the last record will intrigue researchers hunting down the source of the Arctic Monkeys' 'I Bet You Look Good . . .')

It's the way these songs merely hint at something more, fearful that overcomplication might weaken the form, that makes them so endearing. 'Trash Talk', for instance, hits its stride almost instantly, as if they're scared to waste even a second. You mightn't want to subsist solely on such a diet, but you really can't get this sort of thing from anywhere else.