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Powder Burns – The New Mexican

Day is young for Twilight Singers
By Steve Terrell | The New Mexican
August 4, 2006

I liked the Afghan Whigs the first time I heard their song “Retarded” on the Sub Pop compilation The Grunge Years back in 1991. But a year later on their album Congregation, the Whigs covered “The Temple” from Jesus Christ Superstar (a guilty pleasure of mine for about 35 years now). That’s when I realized I was going to be a fan of this band and its singer, Greg Dulli, for the long haul.

Sometimes Dulli is the wrathful god ready to take the whip to the money changers. But more often, he’s the thief in the temple — his eye on the jewel in the idol’s eye, his hands on the virgins.

The Afghan Whigs folded around the end of the decade, but Dulli raged on with The Twilight Singers, an ever-changing ensemble coloring Dulli’s musical visions with 40 shades of dark. Powder Burns is the latest Twilight Singers outing, and it’s a mighty one.

After a short, simmering instrumental, Dulli bursts upon the stage with the hard-crunching “I’m Ready,” declaring his intentions by the end of the first verse: “I hope I see you out tonight, and I hope we get it on.”

Like most of the songs to follow, the sound is big — guitars, keyboards, and drums work into crescendos. Likewise, Dulli works his voice into inspired frenzies. Sometimes, you don’t notice he’s been screaming until the song starts to fade.

“Bonnie Brae” is reportedly an autobiographical song about drug abuse. “If she’s your master/then get down on your knees and beg for more/I’m not saying it’s easier/to live your life like a little whore.”

Dulli is at his most evil on “Forty Dollars.” With his altered voice harsh and mockingly nasal, he takes the guise of a white street pimp. “Buy your love for $40,” he sneers. “I’ve got love for sale/come on get some before it gets stale.” By the end of the tune, he has sardonically quoted two Beatles songs, “All You Need Is Love” and “She Loves You.” Dulli actually sings the refrain of the latter, which he also used for the title of a previous Twilight Singers album.

Those aren’t the only Beatles references on Powder Burns. During its quieter moments, “There’s Been an Accident” features some subtle sounds reminiscent of the East Indian stringed instruments on “Within You, Without You.”

Powder Burns has some quieter moments. “Candy Cane Crawl” features background vocals from Ani DiFranco, and “The Conversation” has slide guitar and a string section.

But these serve mainly as apprehensive lulls before the next explosions. After “The Conversation,” the album’s title song starts out with a sinister guitar riff that might remind Nirvana fans of “Rape Me.” This song features strings as well. Almost like a movie soundtrack, the song is easy to imagine as a James Bond theme.

Powder Burns ends with the dreamlike “I Wish I Was,” a meandering tune with a muted trumpet, a sad Dixieland trombone, and what sounds like short blasts of radio static.

From the outset, Dulli proclaimed his love for classic soul music. He never stooped to imitative retro shtick, but those with ears to hear always knew his music was flavored by Percy Sledge as much as Iggy Pop, Little Anthony as much as Lou Reed. Powder Burns is packed with Dulli’s peculiar brand of soul. It’s a not-so-quiet storm that won’t let up.

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