Reigning Sound never gets mentioned as part of the retro-soul movement, perhaps because it has never been interested in playing dress-up. Singer-songwriter Greg Cartwright also doesn’t huff and puff with the aggressiveness of his garage-rock peers; he just gently exhales stone-cold stunners imbued with the sounds of classic Stax, moody ’60s AM pop, and rough-hewn folk-rock. Reigning Sound’s allegiance is to producing great songs that move feet and rip out hearts, not to any particular scene or fashionable pose. This has cost Reigning Sound the big audience that its excellent catalog—highlighted by gems like 2002’s Time Bomb High School, 2004’s Too Much Guitar, and 2009’s Love And Curses—deserves. But more importantly, it’s enabled Cartwright to maintain an impressively high level of quality across the band’s releases, which extends even to a seemingly minor release like the Abdication EP.

Released as a free download as part of a car-company promotion, Abdication isn’t a mere throwaway; to the contrary, it finds Reigning Sound picking up where the gorgeous, organ-heavy Love And Curses left off. Cartwright can still turn out rockers with the best of them, charging through the Springsteen-esque “Watching My Baby” like the best bar band in town on Saturday night. But with ballads like the heart-tugging “Not Far Away,” and the sullen strut of “Everything I Do Is Wrong,” Reigning Sound’s attention to craft and brilliantly lean ensemble playing pays the richest dividends. This music forgoes categorical slots and heads straight for the heart.