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Katrina, sobriety color Dulli’s ‘Powder Burns’

Scripps Howard News Service

Scripps Howard News Service

For Greg Dulli, “Powder Burns” is a record of beginnings and catastrophic ends.

The album _ the fourth CD the former Afghan Whigs frontman has issued under the Twilight Singers’ banner _ not only finds the swaggering alt-rock Lothario newly sober, it was recorded in New Orleans just before and right after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the region and devastated the Crescent City.

“Oh my goodness, you know, it really was the apocalypse,” Dulli says from his home base in Los Angeles, taking a break from tour rehearsals. “I don’t think people really understand how bad it was, and from what I can tell, there’s not a whole hell of a lot different now. . . . I heard JazzFest went really well, and that’s good, but nobody’s doing anything about the outlying areas, and that, to me, is where the real cultural diversity of New Orleans lived.

“It’s clear to me that it’s an intensely classist and racist situation going on down there as far as who’s getting help and who’s not.”

The imagery of Katrina is plainly audible on “Powder Burns” _ there’s even a pair of tracks called “Toward the Waves” and “Underneath the Waves.” But the record also is a monument to Dulli’s decision to get clean; the thunderous opening rocker “I’m Ready” is a manifesto of rebirth, with Dulli singing “I’m ready/I’m ready/To love somebody.”

It’s quite the change of tune for the lustful singer who’s perhaps best known for writing the Whigs’ bitter, almost misogynistic break-up album, “Gentlemen.”

“It’s a declaration of independence, so to speak,” Dulli says of “I’m Ready.” “It’s really no secret that I have been a rather self-destructive individual for a long time. I came to a crossroads, and had I taken the other turn, I would not be talking to you right now.

“But there are a couple songs (‘Dead to Rights’ and ‘Forty Dollars’) from the old days on “Powder Burns.’ I kept them on just to give me perspective.”‘

The record itself is one of the strongest of Dulli’s career. While the Twilight Singers started off as a quasi-electronic hybrid on 2000’s “Twilight,” Dulli’s revolving cast of sidemen now produce something more akin to the cinematic, soul-infused rock the Whigs perfected on 1996’s “Black Love.” On “Powder Burns,” the rocker incorporates strings, jazzy horns and the backing vocals of indie-folk icon Ani DiFranco and singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur. Ex-Whig John Curley also lays down bass on “Candy Cane Crawl.”

“Sonically, this is the best-sounding record I think I’ve ever made, in either incarnation.” Dulli says. “And, again, I would give a lot of that to clarity.”

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