Greg Dulli's fine line

Sound Salvation

Greg Dulli is something of a rock 'n' roll alchemist. One part spit and swagger, two parts wall of guitars and one part soul is the recipe he's blended together countless times, first with the Afghan Whigs on songs such as "Debonair" and, for the past decade with the Twilight Singers.

Like perhaps only the Rolling Stones before him, he manages to fine the right tension between these elements. Except he hasn't strayed in to country music, yet. Instead he raids the vaults of classic soul music for ideas and filters them through big guitars. Or on occasion, he just goes straight to the source.

See his cover of Marvin Gaye's "Please Stay (Once You Go Away)."

That tension makes his music cinematic and dramatic, sometimes veering into melodrama accidentally. It's also what puts his albums on the top of the guitar rock heap.

His latest release, Powder Burns, is an epic account of his struggles with addiction and life. Or maybe it's an epic account of New Orleans, his adopted hometown and the where he recorded the album before during and after Hurricane Katrina. Either way, it's epic.

Throughout the album, Dulli's music rises and crashes like waves. Just when it seems like it's going to relent, there's another bruising crescendo. This might just be Dulli remembering his mid-90s youth -- toned-down verses and soaring choruses like on "Underneath the Waves."

Powder Burns is a testament to Dulli's ability to straddle the fine line between pleasure and pain. Nowhere on the album better showcases that gift than the third track,"There's Been an Accident," one of the better odes to addiction in an art form overloaded with them. Dulli's delivers his lyrics with languid vocals. Like molasses being poured down a rope, the words run into each other not hurried but as if following the path of the last. As Dulli's tale of an addict who knows he's killing himself but can't stop the music slowly builds into a catharsis.

It seems strange for such an emotional high point to come so early in the album, and on many records that would be a problem. But the catharsis is only temporary. Luckily for the listener, another 10 are around the corner.

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