Greg Dulli
Photo: Sam Holden / One Little Independent Records

The Twilight Singers Are Feted in Gorgeous New Box Set

Greg Dulli’s post-Afghan Whigs project, the Twilight Singers, gets a proper encapsulation with a beautiful, limited edition box set.

Black Out the Windows, It's Party Time / Ladies and Gentlemen, The Twilight Singers
The Twilight Singers
One Little Independent
October 2023

For years and years, diehard Greg Dulli fans have been clamoring for a box set to document the Twilight Singers‘ output. The Congregation, the Facebook fan group, has long had an acronym for their most-wanted item, the MFTSBS (Motherfucking Twilight Singers Box Set). 

It took a while, but good things to those who are patient. Black Out the Windows, It’s Party Time/Ladies and Gentlemen, The Twilight Singers is a stunningly beautiful, career-spanning box set with newly remastered versions of the band’s studio albums optimized for vinyl listening, a record of unreleased material, and a full-color book filled with photographs and essays from people close to the group. 

Dulli oversaw every aspect of design, and it is a marvel of simple elegance, genuinely worthy of the Twilight Singers’ remarkable output. All the records are housed in a white box with an outline of the signature swans from the first LP, which houses white sleeves with outlines of each album cover. Within that, simple black sleeves with the swans and production credits house the clear lavender records. The fourth side of each release has a swan etched onto the record. It is stunning to look at and even better to listen to.

The Twilight Singers are ideal for what happens when your favorite artist’s band breaks up and they return with a new project. This is Dulli exploring without setting fire to what came before. While the Afghan Whigs locked in a signature sound, one of the first things that stand out in listening to the box set is that the Twilight Singers’ discography is their restlessness. From incorporating beats to pushing into heavier guitars, each record has its own sound. The band leaned even harder into the grittiness of crime tales and recorded far more covers than the Whigs did; every dedicated Whigs fan knows covers are a live show staple. The other standout aspect of the Twilight Singers era is the contributions of the late, revered guitarist Dave Rosser, who brought a fire to these songs that sets them apart from the Whigs’ canon. Rosser would work with Dulli on two of the Whigs’ reunion albums before his untimely passing in 2017 at age 50.

The adventurousness to come is announced with the debut record, Twilight as Played by the Twilight Singers. Released in 2000, it features production work from Britain’s Fila Brazilia, who Dulli worked with to transform the songs he had been working on since before the Afghan Whigs disbanded. While it was common for rock bands in this era to incorporate more dance and electronic sounds, the record is so unique that it escapes sounding dated in any way. It is a late-night classic, with the mix of trademark Dulli themes but with a blend of rich electronics contracted with some of the starkest, most stripped-down songs he’d released since Congregation closer “Tonight.” 

The opener, “The Twilite Kid”, is a wistful goodbye, with beats carrying trademark Dulli lines. He is joined by the late great Shawn Smith of Satchel and Happy Chichester of the criminally overlooked Howlin’ Maggie on several songs, and their soulfulness aligns beautifully with Dulli’s rougher edges. The trio deliver a pretty, resigned ballad in “How that Bird Sings” and add a layer of slinky sexiness to songs like “King Only” and “Clyde”. Elsewhere, “Last Temptation”, the most explosive song on the record, leans more into funk and is in a different space than the Afghan Whigs’ barn burner “Goin’ to Town”. Closer “Twilight” is one of the prettiest songs Dulli has crafted; its “Everything’s gonna be alright” refrain provides a quiet confidence that almost sounds like the sunrise after a rough night. Twilight as Played By is one of the furthest outliers in the Dulli canon but also one of the most replayable.

Fan favorite Blackberry Belle is inarguably one of the finest records of Dulli’s career. Conceived in the wake of the passing of one of his closest friends, director Ted Demme, this is simply one of the most powerful albums about grief and loss. It’s starkly and elegantly summed up in a few devastating lines in the endlessly catchy “Feathers”: “No wind / No rain / No conversation / Will bring you back to life.” The opener, “Martin Eden”, begins with the now iconic lines “Blackout the windows /I t’s party time,” and soon after, it breaks into an aching dirge that announces a detour from the experimentation of Twilight as Played By.

While Blackberry Belle certainly has its share of lacerating lines and brooding tracks, it also contains one of the catchiest songs Dulli has ever written, “Teenage Wristband”. But like much of his best work, even the anthems have darkness tucked into the lyrics. The song begins as a classic “let’s run away together” rocker but ends with “You wanna go for a ride? / I got no more money to burn / And I’m gonna stay up all night.” “St. Gregory” is a ruthless self-interrogation.

The album’s back end plays out like a mashup of an elegy and the noir cycles Dulli is known for. “Decatur St.”, “Papillon”, and “Follow You Down” set the stage for “Fat City” and its hypnotic piano, dead-end feeling, and chilling final lines “Save yourself you little sinner / Path it up right / Take the road less traveled / Make sure you keep that shit all tight.” The late Mark Lanegan appears on closer “Number Nine”, and his recent passing adds even more poignancy to this beautiful send-off. No one closes a record like Dulli, and this is no exception, with just a little light beginning to peak in, as is with many of his finest album closers.

Every Dulli enthusiast knows his affinity for well-chosen covers. Afghan Whigs’ B-sides and live shows contain a litany of unforgettable interpretations of other artists, and the Uptown Avondale EP shone a light on the darkness hiding in bouncy soul classics. On She Loves You, the Twilight Singers interpret a full range of influences, from Bjork to Martina Topley Bird to Billie Holiday and John Coltrane. It’s no surprise that the Twilight Singers have chosen so well; what is remarkable about this set is how well all the songs hang together. Who else could put together a cohesive covers record that includes Björk, Fleetwood Mac, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, and Mary J. Blige? 

Powder Burns, written after Dulli got sober, finds the band sounding energized, coming out of the gate with “I’m Ready”, an upbeat song with some of the most positive and direct lyrics in his songbook. However, this is no straightforward account of cleaning up one’s act; we know Dulli is far more talented than to deliver a dull cautionary tale. The songs interrogate all corners of addiction, coming out at the end with more of a sigh than a triumph. While many of the songs have darker subjects, the record has a huge sound, bigger than the other releases. Powder Burns also features Ani DiFranco on “Bonnie Brae”, a clear highlight, and the title track is a powerful exploration of addiction. “Forty Dollars” is endlessly catchy, with a nick from the Beatles in the lyrics. 

Before Dulli and Lanegan collaborated as the Gutter Twins and released Saturnalia, the EP A Stitch in Time arrived as a teaser EP of sorts that hews closest to the sound of early Whigs as the band would ever get, with an essential cover of Massive Attack’s “Live With Me”. The guitars on “They Ride” revisit that desperate tone in Congregation, and “Flashback” is a dark soul jam that recalls the Black Love era. 

The Gutter Twins’ uncompromising sound informs Dynamite Steps, the Twilight Singers’ final full-length. “Be Invited”, which features Lanegan, and “Waves” would be right at home on Saturnalia. Dynamite Steps is intense. DiFranco returns for “The Blackbird and the Fox”, once again one of the highlights. Even in light of the ground Dulli has covered throughout his career, this is a particularly dark record that feels like the soundtrack to a gritty crime film. The title track closer is the Twilight Singers’ “Faded”, an epic, goosebumps-inducing finale that builds to a powerful finish and memorable final line, “With the second sight, you’ll love me.” 

The final disc is Etcetera, a treasure trove of unreleased material, including recordings of live favorites such as covers of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” and Leonard Cohen’s “Paper Thin Hotel”. Other highlights include a stark, stripped-down version of “Love”, retitled “Black Love”, and featured in Ted Demme’s 1998 gangster saga Monument Ave. This version is a little slower, with only Dulli and piano, and it is as devastating away from the film as when it plays over the end credits. Other highlights are the catchy “Domani” and the gorgeous piano ballad “Deepest Shade”. With that, it comes to an end. Clearly, this is a must for Dulli obsessives. But it’s also a remarkable chapter of one of the most rewarding careers in rock music, bursting with creativity and energy. 

RATING 9 / 10