In 2011, happenstance threw Greg Cartwright together with the Brooklyn soul group The Jay Vons for the Scion-promo EP, Abdication... for Your Love. Recorded on the fly in Nashville, the two-day, eight-song session was a stunner, and seemed to re-charge the batteries of the Oblivians/Compulsive Gamblers/Reigning Sound underground rock icon.
But would Abdication be a one-off or a future blueprint? Thankfully, the quintet assembled again more formally at soul revival world HQ (Daptone studios) for Shattered, Reigning Sound's Merge debut. And the label couldn't ask for a better introduction, one that doubles down on Cartwright's Memphis soul roots.
One reason for Cartwright's songwriting prowess is that he boils rock down to its boy-meets-girl basics. "It takes time for broken hearts to mend," Cartwright sings matter-of-factly on the country blues "If You Gotta Leave," while pedal steel and B3 organ color the song indigo, "There'll be a whole lotta pain, but it ain't the end."
Simple advice, but then this isn't string theory. Lead single "My My" celebrates the whole throw-off-your-chains point of rock music in three super-charged minutes, while the Yardbirds guitars on "You Did Wrong" and wailing organ on "In My Dreams" suggest artyfacts updates from Nuggets.
"Baby It's Too Late" is done at Motown/Funk Brothers tempo, while "I'm Trying (To Be the Man You Need)" is a gut-wrench reminiscent of Otis Redding's slowest blues; both show off Cartwright's blue-eyed-soul chops.
The surprises here are the countrypolitan strains in "Never Coming Home," Cartwright's orchestral "As Tears Go By" moment, and "Once More," with its Goffin/King echoes of Dusty In Memphis. Cartwright may be dialing back the garage rock, but if that's a function of aging, he's doing it in grand style.