As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 19, 2004
She Loves You, the new album by The Twilight Singers is Greg Dulli’s latest joy ride -- in the Blue Velvet meaning of that phrase -- into the dark side of love and desire.
With roaring guitars and his own scratchy Romeo-is-bleeding voice -- aided on several tunes here by the magic baritone growl of his former roomie and ex-Screaming Tree Mark Lanegan -- Dulli belts out songs of betrayal, anger and resignation.
This is a covers album. Dulli’s familiar with the concept. With his old band, The Afghan Whigs, he released an EP of soul covers called Uptown Avondale, which, with versions of “Come See About Me,” “Band of Gold,” “True Love Travels Down a Gravel Road,” etc., showed common if not obvious threads between Dulli’s Cincinnati grunge and sweet soul music.
But this album is more ambitious, with Dulli covering a wider range of sources: Coltrane to Fleetwood Mac; Marvin Gaye to Bjork; Gershwin to Hope Sandoval. (But no, The fab moptops’ famous yeah-yeah-yeah song won’t be found here.)
Amazingly Dulli makes each of these songs his own. She Loves You comes off like a scrapbook of a bruised relationship.
Dulli sounds like a lovelorn prowler as he earnestly sings the lyrics of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love,” just barely rising above the din of guitars, piano and Jon Skibic’s screaming lap steel.
He sounds as if he’s been up all night as he rages through Lindsay Buckingham’s “What Makes You Think You’re the One.” Over a guitar riff (heavy on the digital delay) and ominous piano chords, Dulli’s voice sounds somewhat, well, dulled, especially compared with Buckingham’s piercing vocals on the original Fleetwood version. But Dulli’s is the voice of a man obsessed. While Buckingham’s original was a snide putdown, Dulli’s is the song of a battered boxer about to throw his last desperate punch.
Not many rock ’n’ rollers have attempted Billie Holiday’s bizarre and horrifying protest song “Strange Fruit.” But Dulli, enraged with the news of a 21st Century lynching in Georgia and inspired by The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” pulls it off with authority.
It’s much better than the puzzling version of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” another tune that most rockers wouldn’t attempt. Jazz purists are bound to hate this track, though if you don’t listen to it as a Coltrane song, it’s a sweet, dreamy and addictive track.
Dulli’s duet with Lanegan on Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor” (fans of O Brother Where Art Thou? should remember this tune being sung by Chris Thomas King) captures the eerie side of the blues. This is done with just a dobro and acoustic guitar accompaniment.
When Dulli and Lanegan sing, “You say you got money/You better be sho’/These hard times will kill you/They’ll drag you down slow,” they sound like they know what they’re talking about.
Perhaps the most emotionally satisfying song here is the Twilight stormy version of “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.” It’s an old folk song. It starts out slow with Dulli strumming a guitar. But soon bass, drums and an almost Latin sounding piano come in. By the end of the first verse you hear an electric guitar rumbling. And by the second verse, Dulli is howling. And when he bellows, “I love the ground on which she stands,” he sounds like someone who knows the feeling isn’t mutual, but is helpless to feel otherwise.
This would have been the perfect ending for the album. However, a short but intense version of “Summertime” follows. It’s neither as cool and graceful as Sam Cooke’s version or as crazed and powerful as Janis Joplin’s, but it fits in with the rest of She Loves You.
This isn’t Dulli’s best effort. It’s not in the same league as The Whigs’ Gentlemen or 1965, or even The Twilight Singer’s Blackberry Belle. But there’s not a weak song on She Loves You.
*Antics by Interpool. I’m a newcomer to this New York band. It’s hard to read a review of their work without stumbling over comparisons to Joy Division and even The Smiths. And it’s true they’ve got a lot of the dark energy of the former and some of the guitar chops of the later.
But I also hear a little bit of the Afghan Whigs/Twilight Singers here -- the surly guitars, that Lurch Addams organ that starts off “Next Exit,” the album’s first song. (Stretch it out a little bit and add a power drill and you’ve got the intro to the Whigs’ Black Love.)
Interpol singer Paul Banks doesn’t sound like rough ‘n’ raspy Greg Dulli. Banks sounds more like singers from British ‘80s bands like The Psychedelic Furs or Depeche Mode.
No doubt they make some interesting music. (My favorite spot on the album is the song “Take You on a Cruise” when it slows down and the bass part sounds like Brian Wilson’s on Pet Sounds.) But in the end, there’s not many memorable tracks on this album.
Remember the VFW: Goshen’s Grant Hayunga and Bill Palmer of Hundred Year Flood will perform live on The Santa Fe Opry, 10 p.m tonight on KSFR, 90.7 FM. (Hear it live, streaming on the web. CLICK HERE.)
Both bands are part of an upcoming documentary called VFWbya, which tells the story of the short-lived music scene at the VFW hall on Montezuma Street. The film, by Lexie Shabel, will debut at the Santa Fe Film Festival , 8:30 p.m. Dec. 2 at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, 1615 B Paseo de Peralta. Immediately following the screening Goshen and Hundred Year Flood will play at The Paramount. Cost is $6, though if you show your stub from the screening you get a dollar off.
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