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Amber Headlights – Splendid

By Andrew Magilow

Recording for Amber Headlights began in 2002, but the disc was abruptly shelved when Dulli’s close friend Ted Demme died. After a several-year hiatus, Dulli returned to the recordings, presumably to add some closure to both his music and his memories. While he hasn’t lost his boisterous swagger or dry vocal phrasings, he sounds much more distressed and pained than when he was with The Afghan Whigs. Amber Headlights can best be divided into blustery rockers and pastel moments of graceful, low-key melancholy. Dulli sounds troubled and tortured (as usual), but he’s downright angry on the soulful rocker “Early Today (And Later That Night)” as a series of intertwined guitar solos rage in the background. He settles for an annoying drum machine-laden led beat on “Cigarettes”, but his tuneful singing and the song’s soaring chorus make up for the rhythmic misstep. This is the disc’s best performance; you can almost hear Paul Westerberg’s distant influence.

”Pussywillow” drones along, all dark tones and weeping guitar. The symphonic overlay adds a touch of class without making the track sound too polished. If the guitar hasn’t already pierced your heart, the desperately sung chorus certainly will. The piano-led “Get the Wheel” evolved into “Follow You Down” on a subsequent release, but this version is still a heartbreaker. Dulli’s smoky voice drifts between the ivory keys, then is quickly overcome by silence at the song’s end. It sounds unfinished, but it’s still dazzling.

If you’re a longtime Fat Greg follower, you’ll recognize “Domani”, “So Tight” and the somber “Wicked”, which have already found their way onto other releases. You won’t mind owning them twice.

For a fractured album that spent several years in limbo, Amber Headlights does two things very well: it’s an impressive introduction to Dulli’s far-reaching musical talent, and a spiritual cleansing for the wry vocalist himself. It’s likely that the rough, ragged lyrics and afflicted vocals will help you exorcise some of your own demons along the way.

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