Twilight Singers offer more than just covers

POLLY HIGGINS
Tuscon Citizen

Double-dog dare singer Greg Dulli, and he might just take you up on it.

twilight singers - tucson
Photo by Chris Cuffaro

For a covers album The Twilight Singers’ main man has been working on, someone did just that, challenging Dulli to attempt a version of the Beatles’ “She Loves Me.” And now the song is to be a part of “She Loves You,” an album of 14 covers that should be released later this year.

“But you won’t recognize it. You’ll recognize the ‘yeah yeah yeah,’ that’s about it,” Dulli says, reached Friday in Minneapolis.

Based on the evidence provided by 1992’s “Uptown Avondale” (Sub Pop), Dulli’s covers EP while he was with The Afghan Whigs, he speaks the truth. “Uptown Avondale” rewraps such songs as The Supremes’ “Come See About Me” in the gloomy, textured atmospherics he has carried on through to The Twilight Singers, presenting the songs pretty much brand new.

“I tend to dip them in acid,” Dulli says, adding that, so far, the most intimidating tunes recorded for “She Loves You” have been Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.”

Dulli heads to Tucson – for his third Club Congress performance, he points out – with The Twilight Singers for a show tonight. The tour is an extension of October’s “Blackberry Belle” (Birdman), the sometimes dark, sometimes danceable second full album from the band.

To be semantically solid, The Twilight Singers is more a collective than a band, with Dulli the consistent driver and others jumping in and out. “Blackberry Belle” sees contributions from singers Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) and Apollonia Kotero (she of Prince), drummer Stanton Moore (Galactic) and many, many others.

“Being in The Whigs for 14 years, it’s sort of like I was married, and now I get to go to those throw-your-keys-in-the-bowl parties,” Dulli says. “I’m a musical swinger, I’m telling you.”

“Blackberry Belle” is full of the kinds of downbeat sentiments the singer-songwriter has become known for. “I think we’re lost/don’t worry I’ve been here before,” he sings against guitar pulses in “The Killer.” “I’m no good, and I like it,” he offers in the trip-hoppy “Decatur St.”

But Dulli’s vocals, more than any particular words he delivers, are what complete the all-encompassing mood set by the soulful rock of the instrumentation. On par with the talented Lanegan, Dulli’s voice swims elegantly and restlessly – at times pleading, other times commanding – always textured and completely his own.

Dulli also has a side project with Lanegan, his friend of 15 years, called the Gutter Twins. A dozen songs are recorded so far, Dulli says, with three to go and, if all goes well, the record will be released in late fall/early winter release with a tour to follow.

Another friend from Dulli’s days at Seattle’s Sub Pop records was much on his mind Thursday as The Twilight Singers performed a show in Indianapolis. When Kurt Cobain died 10 years ago that night, Dulli’s road manager approached him with the news as soon as he exited the stage. With the same road manager in tow as Dulli performed, it was all, he says “a little weird.”

“I sang a little bit of my boy’s words last night. I shouted him out. I sang ‘School,’ off of ‘Bleach.’ That was the first song I heard by them,” Dulli says. “I was friends with Elliott Smith too… . You never get used to it.” (Singer-songwriter Smith died in October.)

If not a version of “School,” Dulli should be at least channeling some of his favorites in his unique way at Club Congress this evening. “I cover people’s songs inside my own songs anyway,” he says. “This is something I’ve been doing since I was a kid – listen to other people’s music, add my own words.”

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