I saw The Parting Gifts at the Empty Bottle in Chicago last night. The band was ramshackle, a little ragamuffin, cute, under-rehearsed, and a lot of fun. Maria "Poni" Silver from The Ettes laid down a grooving and driving rhythm, and Dave Amels (of Reigning Sound and the Jay Vons) sat in on keyboards, providing texture and a bed to the melodies. Lindsay "Coco" Hames was a bit of a surprise to me; I hadn't seen her perform before and she seemed a bit more shy and coy than I would've expected. Maybe that's her thing. And it might have been my vantage point, right near the stage under the speakers, but her voice was a bit thin, more helium-cute than the womanly-wise of her recordings. But she was great, and she looked great, and smiled and held her tambourine like a good luck charm, and was clearly having a good time. All in all it was a loose and fun night.
Much has been written about Cartwright's love for pre-Beatles, Brill Building, Girl Group sounds, but he is no revivalist. There's passionate sincerity in his best work—"I'm So Thankful," I Walk By Your House," "We Repel Each Other," "Your Love Is A Fine Thing," "Sour And Vicious Man," "Dangerous Game," "Stick Up For Me," among others—all the more remarkable, rewarding, and pleasurable because the rawness is in service to classicist pop structures, where each aids and abets the other, creating something new and vibrant, real heart-beating stuff. And his voice is superb: hoarse but melodic, intense but controlled, capable of evoking the pain of heartache and the disorientation of aimlessness at once. I hear the soul and history of raw Memphis in his voice—he was born in the River City—but that could be my own wishful, sentimental ear.
I like each of the Reigning Sound albums, and Cartwright's solo album Live At Circle A, where his voice and acoustic guitar sound ageless and folky, but never, to my ear, dated or slavish. His songs for the Parting Gifts are equally strong, and I hope there will be more. No one around right now can navigate the changes of the romantic heart and the changes of a two minute pop song quite as well and as urgently. I'm a fan.
Distressingly grainy iPhone photos from the Parting Gifts' show at The Empty Bottle, in Chicago, March 4, 2011.