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The Reigning Sound: Love and Curses (Album Review)

As good as Reigning Sound’s 2004 album Too Much Guitar was, the title was both an accurate self-review and a preview of what was inside; the deep soul influences that made the group’s first two albums so memorable were pushed to the side, and while the album rocked hard and strong, it seemed as if bandleader and songwriter Greg Cartwright was ignoring an integral part of his musical personality in favor of making his music better understood to the nuevo-garage crowd. After a three-year layoff and a rewarding detour backing up Shangri-Las’ vocalist Mary Weiss on her fine solo album Dangerous Game (with Cartwright producing and writing most of the material), Reigning Sound have returned to the studio with Love and Curses. The album finds the group getting most of their balance back, and while calling it a return to form suggests Too Much Guitar was more flawed than it really was, Love and Curses gives a clearer and more compelling picture of what Reigning Sound does best. “Call Me,” “Only Want You More,” and “Is It True” confirm that Cartwright and his partners’ rock & roll is as tough as ever and bassist David Wayne Gay and drummer Lance Wille are a powerful and elemental rhythm section, but here they also make more room for the soulful edges of Cartwright’s voice and Dave Amels’ keyboards. And when the band turns down the tempo and lets their R&B influences step forward, Cartwright reaffirms that he’s one of the most powerful and affecting blue-eyed soul men recording today, and the spirit and passion in “Trash Talk,” “Something to Hold Onto,” and “Love Won’t Leave You a Song” is thrilling stuff that hardly anyone on the indie scene today can touch. Reigning Sound also dip their toes into the social relevance thing with the working class anthem “Stick Up for Me” and “Banker and a Liar,” a curious but fascinating finale which matches a slightly Dylan-esque lyric about the wealthy and corrupt backed with an accordion and a mandolin. Love and Curses features 14 songs driven by soul, strength and fierce belief, and with a voice as strong as Greg Cartwright fronting a band this tight and effective, Reigning Sound are just about unbeatable; they’re one of America’s great bands and they’re firing on all cylinders with Love and Curses.