She Loves You – Free Times
Columbia, SC Free Times
By Dan Cook
Maybe it’s better that former Afghan Whigs vocalist Greg Dulli never took his place alongside Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder, because the grunge label was always a bit of a stretch anyway. Sure, Dulli had a ragged, menacing, full-throated delivery, and there was plenty of punch in the Whigs’ thick, snarling guitars. But unlike his flannel-wearing brethren, Dulli had an unabashed rock ‘n’ roll swagger at a time when it was far cooler to be a reluctant star; he also had an attraction to doing covers, with a particular devotion to Motown.
Given this history, it should surprise no one that the third release from the Twilight Singers, Dulli’s “new” band (formed in 1997), is a record of covers. The breadth of artists Dulli tackles, however, might raise a few eyebrows. Included on She Loves You are songs written or made famous by Billie Holiday (“Strange Fruit”), Nina Simone (“Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair”); Mary J. Blige (“Real Love”); Björk (“Hyperballad”); Fleetwood Mac (“What Makes You Think You’re the One”); George Gershwin (“Summertime”); electronica/trip-hop singer Martina Topley-Bird (“Too Tough to Die”); and languid indie rocker Hope Sandoval (“Feeling of Gaze”). Oh, and John Coltrane.
Like any worthwhile artist, Dulli easily sidesteps the pitfall of juvenile imitation. Combining his swaggering growl with his penchant for eerie, sinewy guitar lines, Dulli instead brings to life what often feel more like new creations than covers. “Feeling of Gaze,” “To Tough to Die,” “Black is the Color,” “Real Love” and “What Makes You Think You’re the One” are unqualified successes, and “Strange Fruit,” about the distinctly uncomfortable topic of lynching, comes off with an admirable intensity and brutal honesty. Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and Gershwin’s “Summertime,” on the other hand, point to the limits of Dulli’s ambitious agenda; to put it plainly, he’s overreaching. A few other tunes hang somewhere in the middle, neither particularly enticing nor off-putting.
While falling a bit shy of true greatness, She Loves You is nonetheless a successful record a must-have for Dulli fans and a worthwhile excursion for fans of the artists he covers.