The Reigning Sound's Greg Cartwright helps a pop legend on the comeback trail. 

Greg Cartwright is an authentic rock-and-roll genius. If it takes playing Jack White to former Shangri-Las lead-singer Mary Weiss' Loretta Lynn on this well-publicized comeback album to get more people to take notice, so be it.

Cartwright co-produced, wrote nine of 14 songs, and, alongside his Reigning Sound bandmates, provides the music on Dangerous Game, which re-introduces Weiss to the listening public more than 40 years after she first emerged as the blond, pouty teen singer of the tough-chick vocal group the Shangri-Las who, with songs such as "Leader of the Pack" and "(Remember) Walkin' in the Sand," were one of the best, and most mysterious, of the '60s girl groups.

Cartwright was the perfect choice for this assignment because no one else in contemporary pop is as adept at writing new songs that sound like lost mid-'60s pop classics, which enables the rock-and-roll revivalists at Norton to provide Weiss with a vehicle that evokes her Shangri-Las past without drowning the product in nostalgia.

The deadpan charm and low-key longing that Weiss displayed as a teen is intact, and she fits well with such written-to-order Cartwright nuggets as "My Heart Is Beating" and "Break It One More Time." More adventurous is "Cry About the Radio," a plaintive, playfully lachrymose ballad that acknowledges age and cultural marginality.

But best of all may be a couple of familiar titles. Cartwright gives Weiss "I Don't Care," from the first Reigning Sound album, which is almost Dylanesque in its acid dissection of an unnamed "you." And then there's "Stop and Think It Over," hidden on Crystal Gazing, Luck Amazing, the final album from the Compulsive Gamblers, the pre-Reigning Sound band Cartwright helmed alongside fellow Memphian Jack Yarber. If anything in Cartwright's catalog deserved a rebirth, it's this song, which sounds like a standard even on first contact.

Weiss does the song justice, but as fun as Dangerous Game is, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that it's a better story than it is a record. And that these songs might be even better if Cartwright himself -- a more distinctive, soulful singer -- were the one behind the microphone. -- Chris Herrington

Grade: B+


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