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Blackberry Belle – Studio M Live

Studio M Live
by Joe del Tufo

Someday an entire genre will look back and give Greg Dulli the credit he is due. Since the mid-eighties he has melded rock, punk and funk together in a way that no other band can touch, without ever being the slightest bit gimmicky. Ok, there was the whole Backbeat thing, but let’s ignore that for a moment. After the Afghan Whigs disbanded, Dulli formed the Twilight Singers. On their debut Twilight As Played By The Twilight Singers, he took his sound in a new direction, engaging the beats of mix-masters Fila Brazillia with mixed results.   The new one, The Twilight Singers Play Blackberry Belle, steps in where the Afghan Whigs 1965 album left off: funky, sweaty, in-your-face and 100% attitude. The guitars are ragin’, piano keys flyin’ and Dulli is in full spiel.    

Blackberry opens without hesitation on the brooding Martin Eden. The opening lines “Black out the windows, it’s party time” says it all, and the piano intro getting sideswiped by the wall of guitars is a good indication of what Dulli has in mind. Things heat up quickly on Esta Noche as well. Paced by a sampled telephone busy signal, guitars dive and soar while Dulli croons lines like “Let me bleed awhile, cause people wanna taste- so taste me.”

Dulli’s always been about laying out the phattest lines, and this time he’s saved some of his best “Why you watch a car wreck muthafucker- cause it looks fun to die” from Fat City, “I’m one of them sad boys who’s hypnotized by girls who walk the walk” from Decatur St. and “You wanna go for a ride? I’ve got sixteen hours to burn, and I’m gonna stay up all night” from Teenage Wristband.

If there is a single criticism, it’s that the mix of Teenage Wristband makes this powerful song seems a little muddled and unfocused. The track itself has all of the right elements in all of the right places- the opening piano, the crashing guitars, and Dulli’s vocals surfing just below the fray. But there’s clearly too much going on and the sheer sexuality of the song gets compromised in the process. A killer track, nevertheless. And guaranteed to become a live staple.

The whiskey-soaked Number Nine is a duet with ex-Screaming Tree’s vocalist Mark Lanegan. It’s a great tune, but something of a non-sequitor with the rest of the album. It would have fit much better on the Whig’s earlier Black Love release, had it been written then. Nice touch closing with it, as the dirge-like is a fitting outro to this dark, moist disc.

For me, if I had to choose a single highlight it would be the street ballad Fat City, a new version of a track that had been released earlier on a DJ Muggs CD. The track is the story of a bunch of street sinners getting a little too close to the flame. Subtle breakbeats give the song an appropriately frantic pace. Dulli sings the song with such attitude and authenticity, and even gets ex-Prince hottie Appollonia to kick in backing vocals. It’s infectious and a nice new approach for Dulli’s repertoire, as if he has taken the best elements introduced on Twilight built from there.

Blackberry Belle has all of the darkness, the street smarts and all of the edgy possibility that is the genius of Greg Dulli. Here he has become Springsteen’s evil stepbrother, crafting out stories of the street without filters. There is not a single bummer on the eleven tracks on Blackberry. It’s pure sex and drugs out to song, and it doesn’t get any purer than this. This is one of the hottest releases of the year, so unless you’re a foo, seek it out, baby.

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