The Parting Gifts - "Keep Walkin'" (Strychnine Dandelion)
When they finally open the DIY Hall Of Fame, Greg Cartwright will be the first name on the shortlist for a lifetime achievement award. A key player in the Memphis underground for longer than most people have had an awareness of the rock ‘n roll form, Cartwright qualifies as a full-on institution at this point. From the soul-junk of The Compulsive Gamblers, and the lo-fi garage-scuzz of The Oblivians, to the more refined soul of Reigning Sound, Cartwright has always been one step ahead of the hype. While this may make for good cred copy, a household name it does not. Despite his status as underground legend to the current crop of primal garage-punk revivalists, he remains a relative unknown outside of these more-or-less closed circles.
"Keep Walkin’," the opening track on The Parting Gifts debut sums up this underdog status neatly. Intentionally or not, the song could serve as straight autobiography for the lives of men like Cartwright, and countless other working musicians living in the margins between moderate success and utter obscurity. "Ain’t punchin’ no clock, ain’t gonna give ‘em my time / Living in a dump month-to-month suits me fine / You can sit there and bitch / but I ain’t ever gonna be rich, honey." Anyone who’s ever seen Cartwright play live in one of his many outfits, knows he walks what he talks. Although his lyrics are based in classic soul-blues and Motown themes of heartbreak and hard-living, one look at the man, and the way he delivers these lines nullifies any doubt of authenticity. He’s been playing this kind of music, and keeping it on the road pretty much nonstop for over 20 years now. There’s no going back at this point, and Cartwright knows it better than anyone. Better dig your heels in and play it like you mean it — like your very life depends on it. Because it probably does.
And so it goes with Strychnine Dandelion. Even though it may be billed as a collaborative effort with L.A. garage-poppers, The Ettes, it’s very hard to hear exactly where the other minds involved here met with Cartwright’s. Save for the handful of tracks that Ettes singer Coco takes the lead vocal on, this sounds very much like another really good Reigning Sound record. And really, who doesn’t need that? Sure, there are members of The Black Keys and The Raconteurs listed in the credits, and The Ettes are no match for the veteran chops-men of Reigning Sound, but in the end, none of this makes a lick of difference. Cartwright’s voice, literally, and songwriting skills have only gotten stronger over time, to the point where his presence is instantly felt in anything he has a hand in. While this workmanship-like familiarity leaves little room for surprises, it also makes the hit-to-misstep ratio almost negligible. With this kind of success rate, we can only hope Cartwright has another 20 years of near-obscurity in him.