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The Gutter Twins- Saturnalia (Album Review)

That’s not the case with the new project from Dulli and Lanegan. As the name — a wry twist on Mick and Keith’s Glimmer Twins moniker — suggests, the Gutter Twins are into darker, heavier stuff. The two singers may seem like strange bedfellows. The Trees were a psychedelic grunge band through and through. The Whigs worked to find a balance between angst-ridden rock and the classic soul and Motown that’s one of Dulli’s great loves. When it worked, particularly on their 1993 debut for Elektra (after getting their start on Sub Pop), the Whigs were sublime, as Dulli strutted through sharp hooks, serrated guitars, and muscular grooves that complemented his tales from the dark side of romance. When it didn’t, Dulli sounded like an ass, straining for a kind of sexual healing that wasn’t a natural fit. Where Dulli and Lanegan found common ground was in the blues and gospel they both delved into outside of their main bands. Beginning in 1997, Dulli founded a band, the Twilight Singers, who were better suited to mixing gospel and blues into his rock, as he used his tortured soulfulness to key in on something close to the vibe of the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”

Lanegan began exorcizing his blues demons all the way back in ’90 with The Winding Sheet, his solo debut for Sub Pop. He’s been toying with dark, haunting roots music ever since. What he’s lacked on those solo albums has been a songwriting partner. Enter Dulli, who isn’t afraid to stand back and let Lanegan’s deep, world-weary voice take over on half the tunes on Saturnalia — tunes that are fleshed out with the sort of hooks and bridges Dulli has always had a knack for, as well as strings, keyboards, and mournful background vocals. Of course, Dulli’s voice is front and center on the other half of the disc (Lanegan even sits one tune out), most of which wouldn’t be out of place in a Twilight Singers set. It’s Dulli sounding like Dulli at his best. And Lanegan delivers some of his more devastating vocal performances: “Got no mother/She can’t find me/Got no father/Gonna blind me/Little girls might twitch at the way I hitch/But when I burn/It’s a son of a bitch,” he intones against insistent piano, distorted guitar, and a heavy beat in “All Misery/Flowers.” It may not be brilliant as poetry, but it’s unforgettable as verse. And that’s the real power of a singular voice.