Greg Dulli is a sensuous stain of steamy piss and bliss on the fabric of rock ‘n’ roll. One of the more underrated singer/songwriters, Dulli has infused sex ‘n’ drugs, rock ‘n’ rehab, lust ‘n’ love with such soul/rock sincerity that it may be time to reconsider that his former band, the Afghan Whigs, was much more than the Gentleman orgasm it seems to be remembered as in our post-millennium jingle.
Blackberry Belle, the sophomore effort from the Twilight Singers (otherwise known as Greg Dulli and a revolving load of guests), more or less picks up where the Afghan Whigs finally rested in 1998 with 1965. Noir rock grooves bleed and bend through Dulli’s painfully lush crooning, all the while pimping together some Mayfield-meets-the-Stones ambience, making this the album Whigs fans have been waiting five years for.
And goddammit the big man delivered.
With production more similar to the Fila Brazillia-produced 2000 debut, Twilight, Blackberry Belle begins with an innocent piano slowly parting the curtains of Dulli’s being. Instead of “Rock steady your man is dead,” which dives Twilight into the horizon of trip-hop-rock, “Black out the windows it’s party time” sets Blackberry Belle‘s melodies building on deep bass riffs, driving guitars and a distorted-strut.
The album takes off two tracks later with “Teenage Wristband,” a spin on the Who’s “Teenage Wasteland.” Piano is sprinkled atop a mid-nineties rocket groove, confirming that youth will be wasted on something new and improved. It’s also the first time since 1965 Dulli unleashes his voice with abandon, a signal that he’s ready to throw down.
And he and his twilight mates do.
“The Killer” features Bay-Area blues gem Alvin Youngblood-Hart sliding some psychedelic dust around the crash-heavy pleading; “Decatur St.” jams like any of the Whigs’ funk-fuelled masturbations and cruises right into a warm twelve-string and a perky fucking banjo on “Papillon.” If there weren’t already enough highlights, the album ends when Mark Lanegan starts singing. Beginning with an organ you’re more likely to hear on a Lanegan album, Dulli joins the former Screaming Trees frontman on the second verse. Barbs are traded, violins slowly fly, guitars embrace and the organ hums until it all peaks with Lanegan singing the chorus over Dulli holding onto the notes: “I’m gonna make you blind.” When Petra Haden takes her voice to the heavens as the curtains are drawn closed, you almost feel that he will.
Rumor has it Dulli and Lanegan have recorded songs for their “band” the Gutter Twins a la Richards/Jagger. The pioneers of grunge-alt-whateverthefuck are getting old, but they are also getting wiser. Blackberry Belle has knocked the dust off Dulli’s guitar, bringing his music closer to a truth he so desperately seeks.