Reigning Sound is the product of Greg Cartwright, the band’s only constant member and prinicpal songwriter. He has been leading the group since 2001, when not working on one of his many other critically acclaimed projects (Oblivians, Deadly Snakes, and Detroit Cobras, to name a few). Shattered is Reigning Sound’s first album for Merge, and the group’s first record since 2009’s Love and Curses. The album was recorded at Daptone Studios in Brooklyn, headquarters of the popular soul/R&B revivalist label Daptone Records.
Stylistially speaking, the change in studio has resulted in a completely different record than what Reigning Sound fans have come to expect. While Love and Curses (and earlier records) had clear elements of classic soul, Cartwright was unable to shake the new-garage influence that crept in via his other acts. Shattered, on the other hand, is wholly indebted to the group’s forefathers. With its organ stabs and walking bass line, opening track “North Cackalacky Girl” is a timeless slice of rock ‘n’ soul that sounds as good now as it would have 50 years ago. Cartwright isn’t trying to break the mold, but he knows his way around it better than any contemporary act working within the genre.
Extra credit should be given to Cartwright and Shattered’s producers for introducing new instruments to Reigning Sound’s formula. On the surface, these 11 songs are more straightforward than the group’s previous efforts, but there is a lingering sadness that persists throughout each song, becoming more apparent with each listen. In particular, the Ruby-Tuesday arrangements on “Never Coming Home”. Cartwright sings “I can’t see your face at all, there’s no trace of your perfume in my room as I lie here and think of you”, which may not translate well on paper, but he has the gift of broadcasting real emotion through the simplest sentiments. Combined with the wistful strings, it’s enough to bring both new and long-time fans to tears.
Considering the amount of time he’s been in the game, it’s likely that Cartwright would roll his eyes at the phrase “soul revival”. Still, there’s no denying that other Daptone affiliates like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley now have real mainstream clout. Let’s hope that Reigning Sound aren’t far behind, because they are true masters that deserve to be heard.