Blackberry Belle – Virgin Mega
Album of the Week (Dec 1 2003)
Greg Dulli rocks. Either you agree or you don’t know who Greg Dulli is. Once upon a time there was a band called the Afghan Whigs, and they were a great rock ‘n’ soul group. Then Dulli started to work on a side project, The Twilight Singers. This endeavor was more mellow and soulful, but also broke new ground for Dulli. The Twilight Singers are no longer his side project, but are the amoebic band for Dulli to realize his new material with. The latest and second album from them, Blackberry Belle, is more consistent and solid than the first one. It proves that Dulli’s new focus is on this band as it comfortably reveals his Afghan Whigs roots.
“Black out the windows, it’s party time” is whispered to you as the opening line of the album, and it sets the mood of being let in on a little secret that’s beautiful and dark. The title of the first track, “Martin Eden,” comes from a Jack London book of the same name about an author who commits suicide after he becomes famous. Is Dulli telling us that he has considered the act? The dark mood continues from beginning to end on this album with such highlights as “Decatur St.,” which is a groove-laden strut through the famous, lustful street in New Orleans. “Papillon” builds from an acoustic guitar to a full band while the music reflects the lyrics, telling of the metamorphosis of a “butterfly” hatching from its small cocoon into something larger and more beautiful – perhaps it’s a metaphor for the singer himself, having recently come from a dark place into the light.
The last track on the album, “Number Nine,” is a perfect ending to the album. It starts as a church organ and moves into an ultra-mellow ballad. The vocals used on this track are provided by former Screaming Trees lead Mark Lanegan, who sounds as if he has just rolled out of bed and into an all-night-bender – something par for the course for both Dulli and Lanegan in real life. From there it builds into a climax that feels much like a battle against temptation. The music is lush, and full of guitars and strings and drums and organs building, until everything falls away and all we’re left with is the organ accompanied by a beautiful heartfelt wail from singer Petra Haden.
Greg Dulli’s lyrics have gotten tighter and more rich (or shall we say more mournful?) with each album he’s written, and on this album it seems to have come to a peak. He easily fuses beautiful poetry with haunting harsh imagery and streetwise jive-talkin’. The new Twilight Singers’ album is perhaps the best work that Dulli has ever recorded. So black out the windows, light a candle, grab a bottle of whiskey and go for a ride – just make sure you know the way home.