Twilight Years: Billboard

Edited By Barry A. Jeckell

The moody hard rock of the Afghan Whigs could be as misogynistic as it was masochistic, with lead singer Greg Dulli hating himself a little more with each passing seduction. When the Whigs disbanded and Dulli emerged with the Twilight Singers, the line between love and hate was obscured by the group’s electronic-infused rock ballads, which bled like a Motown review in a seedy nightclub.

In the three years that have past, Dulli has been relatively quiet. At the start of the second Twilight Singers effort, “Blackberry Belle,” he sounds as if he’s been holed up in a bedroom and is being forced to take a tentative step into the daylight. “There’s a riot going on inside of me,” he sings on the album’s “St. Gregory.”

The song’s acoustic guitars and restrained percussion urge him back into the darkness, but it isn’t too long before the soulful strut of “Decatur St.” is luring him out again. Dulli admits that his “soul is like a vacant lot,” but the bassline shakes like a lost Temptations groove and the guitars rev-up when he spots another directionless affair. “I want a little more,” he sings, “the savior of misbehavior.”

And with that, it’s clear that Dulli hasn’t retreated to the quiet, introspective role of the aging singer/songwriter just yet. “Blackberry Belle,” released by independent labels One Little Indian and Birdman Records, is more reminiscent of the Afghan Whigs’ 1996 album “Black Love” than any of Dulli’s more recent material. Songs are dressed with alluring violins and late-night pianos, and he keeps his rhythm & blues rock swinging with disco-funk basslines and sly, 1960s-influenced guitar riffs.

Yet Dulli hasn’t abandoned the electronic touches he explored on the first Twilight Singers album. Songs such as “Teenage Wristband” and “Fat City” incorporate fluttering, trip-hop-like beats, and “The Killer” snoops along with rhythmic samples, but “Blackberry Belle” is a far more grounded effort. This time around pre-dawn atmospherics accentuate the song rather than shape it.

“Blackberry Belle” was recorded with a revolving door of musicians, which sometimes includes former That Dog member Petra Haden, guitarist Alvin Youngblood Heart, Galactic drummer Stanton Moore and ex-Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan.

“If I do a Greg Dulli project, I will play every instrument on the record and it will be me only,” the artist recently told Billboard.com. “That is who Greg Dulli is. Otherwise, I’m part of a group. If there are other people helping me to play instruments and helping me with anything, then I have to call it something else. To me, the Twilight Singers are an extension of me still wanting to be part of a band. I will do a Greg Dulli record someday, but I haven’t done it yet… And when I eventually do a solo record, it will probably be a pretty stark affair.”

Sony Records released the first Twilight Singers record, “Twilight as Played by the Twilight Singers.” It arrived to little fanfare and failed to dent any of Billboard’s charts. “Blackberry Belle,” however, bowed last week at No. 39 on the Top Independent Albums tally. It marks the first time Dulli has reached one of the magazine’s charts since the Afghan Whigs’ swan song, “1965,” entered The Billboard 200 at No. 176.

The Twilight Singers are in the midst of a North American tour.

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