Powder Burns – Las Vegas City Life

Las Vegas City Life

Word on the street is that ex-Afghan Whigs mastermind Greg Dulli sobered up prior to recording his latest Twilight Singers album, Powder Burns. There are also reports he wrote a great deal of the material in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans with nothing more than a guitar and some flimsy candles. Whatever the process, the Singers sound refreshed three years after releasing 2003’s Blackberry Belle. Dulli’s patented songwriting formula — smoky verse, soaring chorus — remains intact, but it’s been infused with a recovering addict’s realization that some lines are never worth crossing, even after they’ve been crossed plenty of times over. Indeed, whereas his characters once mocked the thin divide between love and obsession, they’re now able to reflect upon the scars — or the deep burns — that mark their skin and souls.

The driving bass guitar of “I’m Ready” tears its way across a simple chord structure, allowing Dulli to dig deep into his bag of studio tricks, his distorted vocals overlapping like waves of radio static. In addition to learning some new recording ideas, he’s also developed into a pretty fine piano player, as is evident on tracks like the sensual Roxy Music vibe of “There’s Been an Accident” and the stomping pop of the substance-abuse anthem “Forty Dollars.”

These aren’t the only surprises. Playing Bonnie to Dulli’s Clyde is, of all people, alt-folkie Ani DiFranco, who sweetens lyrics that, without her presence, would register as being a little self-indulgent. But DiFranco resonates like an angel placing her hand upon a suffering junkie’s brow, particularly during the title track. In other words, Powder Burns is at once monstrous and divine. How many other works of art can we say that about?

JARRET KEENE

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