Since debuting with the Afghan Whigs exactly 20 years ago, Greg Dulli has remained passionate but conflicted, with a twisted heart that thrives on lust, sex and suffering. He's also a gritty soul singer who happens to make some of the most honest rock 'n' roll music ever. Powder Burns is his fourth album as leader of the rotating collective Twilight Singers, and it's undoubtedly his most personal. For once he seems to exist at least partially outside of a drug-induced state of mind, and that resistance to his demons allows the record to really catch fire. "Bonnie Brae" and "I'm Ready" both smolder with crunchy guitars and brooding harmonies, and Dulli's aching vocals rail against his previous positions on life and vice. But the record's considerable emotional chi is lightened by instrumentation that's often as contemplative as it is loud, and guest vocals from Ani DiFranco, Joseph Arthur and Mark Lanegan add variety to the album's beautiful disarray. Whether he's aching for his next fix ("Forty Dollars") or treading dangerous waters for the last time ("Underneath the Waves"), Dulli has made an album that hits where it hurts the most. He's still convinced that he's both sinister and incurable, and he's handing us his heart again.
MacKenzie Wilson writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].