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Saturnalia –


Though I came of age in the early ’90s, neither the Screaming Trees nor Afghan Whigs figured heavily into my musical development. I dug a few of the singles from each but I just couldn’t relate to their brand of bellowing angst – was more of a moper than a shouter. Did I say was?

Even though it’s been some 15 years since either band reached their commercial peaks with Sweet Oblivion and Gentlemen respectively, the frontmen from each band have never stepped out of the public eye. Mark Lanegan has carved out a critically acclaimed solo career in addition to his duties as a sometime-Queen Of The Stone Age and unlikely duet partner with Isobel Campbell while Greg Dulli has been a Twilight Singer for as long as he was an Afghan Whig and now the pair, who’ve worked together before in the Twilight Singers, are set to release the first album from their long-percolating collaboration as The Gutter Twins – Saturnalia, out Tuesday. And hell, if you’ve been waiting a long time for this? It was worth it.

It’s hard to imagine a situation in which Greg Dulli would be the good cop, but here – even though his vocals drip with the greasy soul and anguished lasciviousness that have long been his hallmark, they can’t withstand Lanegan’s weight of a thousand tombstones baritone. When he steps in, it’s like every light in the room dims and the temperature drops by ten degrees. The man has presence. They both do. And together, whether trading lead vocals or in harmony, they’ve produced a record that stands as one of the finer pure rock records I’ve heard in ages. Dominated by huge guitars (“Idle Hands” is an apocalypse I could get into) but also drenched in piano, strings and mellotron – this is no collection of home demos cobbled together – Saturnalia is grandiose but never loses the rawness or darkness that gives it its crackling vibrancy. Of course, when you’ve got two singers who sound like their concert rider could consist of nothing but whiskey and gravel, how could it? The songwriting drips with blues and soul with dashes of Americana and shows two veteran songwriters still restless, still searching and still not the kind of guys you’d want to run into in a dark alley. Absolutely bracing.

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