Amber Headlights – Mondo Gordo
BY REV. KEITH A. GORDON
As frontman for ’90s-era critical darlings the Afghan Whigs, Greg Dulli was responsible for bringing a measure of soul to a rather barren alt-rock landscape. While most bands of the decade — particularly those from the over-hyped Seattle scene — acted like they had never heard of R&B music, Dulli’s songwriting for the Whigs injected a sense of history and energy into the band’s rocking sound. Despite a shot at the big time with two major labels, the Afghan Whigs never rose above cult status and eventually drifted into the oblivion of talented bands that never received the hearing they deserved.
Dulli started the Twilight Singers as a side project while the Whigs were between record deals, recording songs in New Orleans with a varied cast of friends, experimenting with sounds and ideas like trip-hop and folk that laid beyond his regular band’s milieu. Nothing if not prolific, after the break-up of the Whigs and the release of the first Twilight Singers’ album, Dulli began yet another project: a collection of rock-oriented material that he hoped would provide a signpost to his musical future. However, the songs were shelved after the death of his friend, filmmaker Ted Demme, and although several of the tunes would later be reworked into Twilight Singers songs, the originals remained lost to time.
Until now, that is. Greg Dulli’s Amber Headlights collects nine songs from those 2000 sessions, presenting them in their raw, unvarnished form. The songs rock hard, possibly more than anything else that Dulli has recorded, and display an undeniable heart of gold beneath the varnish of clashing guitars and amped-up, funky rhythms. The material sounds eerily timeless, not like the Afghan Whigs or like the Twilight Singers, but rather like vintage ’70s-era rock & roll where the boundaries between black & white, rock & soul were constantly blurred and artists were able to play what they damn well pleased. There are some good songs here, one or two even verging on greatness, and all would sound wonderfully exciting on the radio.
The vocal harmonies of “Black Swan” sound like the Eagles while its riff-happy interludes sound like Rush to these ears, verging on a power metal vibe. The folk-pop of “Pussywillow” sounds amazingly contemporary, predating artists like Bright Eyes or Iron & Wine, the song chiming brightly like a bell and sporting Dulli’s tender duet with Petra Haden. The dark-hued “Wicked” slowly unfolds from its quiet opening into a droning, hypnotic, psychedelia-tinged dirge while “Get The Wheel” is a blues-tinged tale in a John Hiatt vein. Dulli’s lyrics are smart, introspective and universally accessible, displaying no little skill in creating a sense of both time and place. Although Dulli may never create music sounding exactly like this again, Greg Dulli’s Amber Headlights is an excellent road trip into the artist’s past, a rock solid collection of songs that can stand proudly with Dulli’s best work (old and new) as well as with anything any other musician is creating these days.