By Blaine Schultz   Published Apr 06, 2006 at 5:12 AM

Greg Cartwright's week beats your month.

The Asheville, N.C. -- by way of Memphis -- musician was in Milwaukee last week to do production work on the debut album by Brew City band The Goodnight Loving.

First a bit of background. Cartwright gained underground icon status with The Oblivians and the Compulsive Gamblers, bands whose discographies are a wealth of sweaty garage/soul/R&B. Cartwright's current group The Reigning Sound blends timeless pop hooks with country touches and R&B grooves while still veering manic when need be. Not long ago he produced and played with the Detroit Cobras.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon the crowd spills outside the entry door to The Circle A, a cozy Riverwest music hotspot. Cartwright is seated, armed with an old Silvertone acoustic guitar strung up lefty. He apologizes and says he's not used to playing solo gigs. "What do you want to hear?" he asks the roomful of sardines. A good half dozen requests are shouted in reply.

Cartwright chuckles "OK" and launches into a tune. In his green corduroy sport coat and close-cropped hair he doesn't look the rocker part. But as he closes his eyes and leans toward the mic, he lets the songs take over. He delivers over an hour of white soul. Digital cameras flash and a pair of overhead microphones record the show. Tentative plans are for a vinyl album to be released on Milwaukee's Dusty Medical Records.

The following Monday morning Cartwright was guided to local record stores by Kevin Mistreater. Sometimes little more than a hole in the wall supplying stacks of old 45s and LPs, Cartwright found a few gems for later that day when he and Kevin took over the Monday afternoon show on WMSE radio. When I later asked what Kevin's role in this project is he hesitated, but Cartwright did not, "He is a provocateur, " Cartwright said.

As Dusty Medical's main man, Kevin has released a few records, with a handful of projects on tap beyond The Goodnight Loving and Cartwright live discs. But you may well know him from his main gig as guitarist for The Mistreaters.

Several years ago I witnessed an early Mistreaters gig at the Cactus Club. They were the opening band and appeared nothing more than scruffy punks fueled by Pabst. As they took the stage the bass player leaned over to Kevin and said something, at which point Kevin shook his head "No," reached across his band mate and tuned the bass. That slight gesture caught my attention; a feather in the wind, which for some reason made me think of what happens in Memphis.

The Mistreaters then proceeded to launch into a primitive set of tunes along the lines of what the Stooges must have sounded like, back when they didn't know there were rules to be broken. While I'm sure the ensuing years of touring and recording tightened up the band, as far as I am concerned the Mistreaters on that night should have been put on exhibit in a museum.

Last Tuesday I was invited to observe the ongoing The Goodnight Loving recording sessions. (Cartwright and the band have been working since his arrival on Friday.) Kevin emailed me directions to the studio, which on paper seemed like a big circle. Driving down near-deserted streets into a maze of ancient warehouses I see a dog or a coyote lurching down the railroad tracks near the Milwaukee River.

I drive a half block further and sure enough there are a few cars parked near the entrance. Up two flights of stairs behind a heavy latched door is The Tannery studio, a stealth recording facility. While rustbelt reality shows this place to be a perfect wide open loft space ready made for a recording studio, it could soon be condo country.

The band, Kevin and Cartwright are listening to playbacks of a harmonica track as the pizza arrives. In the control room an analog 2-inch tape machine whirs as the engineer adjusts the levels on the 24-track board. Cartwright considers the part and asks Colin Swinney to take another shot at it, suggesting a less is more approach. Meanwhile, a mandolin needs to be restrung an amplifier needs to be chosen for a pedal steel track. Engineer number two, Brian, arrives to spell Danny, who has worked the day session.

Taking their name from a Texas to New Mexico cattle trail blazed in 1866, The Goodnight Loving is a young quintet who adopt the healthy approach of "whatever it takes to make the song work." They'll try whatever comes to mind; ideas and instruments are traded freely. Drummer Austin Dutmer played washboard and a passing freight train got recorded on another track. This philosophy is what attracted Kevin to do a project with the group.

"I liked every one of their songs," he recalls of seeing the Goodnights at a show. "The songwriting stands out. And I was afraid if I didn't get them into a studio it might not get done," he laughs. The album should be released this summer.

While the microphones are being set for the next track to be recorded, Cartwright and I chat about one of our heroes, the legendary songwriter Dan Penn. "We just did a session with the Reigning Sound backing up George Soule. You know him? He was drummer and vocalist at Muscle Shoals in Alabama. Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham were there."

I ask about another project that was just announced. What is the story behind the album you are doing with Mary Weiss from the Shangri La's?

"Rhino Records had a party in New York City for the release of the girl groups box set," he says. "Billy Miller of Norton Records came up with the idea (for the album with Mary). I did some co-writing with Jackie DeShannon for the Cobras album, so that might be part of it as well." Cartwright and Miller will produce and the Reigning Sound will be Weiss‚ band for the project scheduled to be recorded in New York City.

Zach Byrne has his mandolin tuned up and ready, but it is decided that Swinney will record a pedal steel part first. But after a few passes, it is decided that the song's chord changes come too fast and it is not right for the tune. True to the band's nature, it is no surprise that someone suggests Cartwright take a shot at the solo. He tunes up his hollow body Gretsch and heads to the recording area. We sit in the control room listening over the speakers as he warms up, pealing off a twangy flurry of Chet Atkins/Les Paul licks. It becomes obvious there is more than punk rock running through this guy's veins.

Swinney readies a Stratocaster for another slide guitar track as Cartwright works on his part. In a final bit of irony, the old pro will take almost a dozen shots before settling on a part that satisfies himself and the group -- it is well past midnight when they call it a day. The song's title? "You Make It Look Easier Than It Is."

On Wednesday the final mixes are completed and later that evening Greg does another guest DJ spot at the Cactus Club. On Thursday Greg and Kevin hounds a few more record stores.

By way of final celebration Cartwright and The Goodnight Loving performed live on WMSE-FM Friday, March 31. That show is archived on the station's Web site for your listening pleasure.