THE GUTTER TWINS
They're grunge survivors, venerable frontmen from the '90s alt movement who've bonded in recent years, likely over their shared rock 'n' rehab experiences. The collaboration between Greg Dulli (The Afghan Whigs) and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age) has been hinted at for years. The two men have played on each others' albums since 2000, and buzz about the duo signing to Sub Pop hit the blogosphere last summer.
Calling themselves The Gutter Twins, their debut disc dropped earlier this month. On their official Sub Pop bio page, Dulli refers to Lanegan and himself as "the Satanic Everly Brothers." And there's plenty of demons inhabiting their album Saturnalia — but also redemption. "Heaven, so fine/ Heaven, is quite a climb," go the opening lines to "Seven Stories Underground." It's one of the collection's more memorable numbers, with Lanegan's deep, penetrating vocals augmented by Dulli's supple background singing. Ominous percussion and gloomy organ anchor the rich instrumentation. Like most of the songs on Saturnalia, it's a Dulli and Lanegan cowrite that reeks of grimy backstreets, excess and regret. The duo goes into Goth-rock mode on "Idle Hands," a meditation on temptation punctuated by stacked guitars and swells of strings. Dulli takes lead vocals on the keyboard-driven kiss-off "I Was in Love With You," which also implements dramatic violin and cello.
With its dark but lush arrangements and mature assessments of actions and consequences, The Gutter Twins' debut could be considered adult contemporary for the '90s alt-rock set. In other words, it's what you listen to when measured reflections replace teen angst and thrashing guitars. 3.5 stars —Wade Tatangelo
Rabo de Nube
CHARLES LLOYD QUARTET
Reed player Charles Lloyd, who turned 70 on March 15, has not forged a conventional jazz career. In the latter half of the '60s, he earned favor from young rock fans, played Fillmore West and even released an album called Love-In in 1967. Perhaps because he's been more oriented toward spiritual searching than the self-destructive lifestyles of many jazz musicians, Lloyd still sounds sharp and robust on his instruments, primarily tenor saxophone. On Rabo de Nube, recorded live in Europe last year, he's joined by an ace band of 30somethings — pianist Jason Moran, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers — for a program that ranges from pensive exploration to aggro burning. Lloyd's penchant for Love Supreme-era Coltrane is evident in some of the smoldering, free-rhythm workouts that let him stretch the limits of his horn with smears and knotty note clusters. Then, quick-like, the band will bust into some breakneck bop. Lloyd struts his predilection for Eastern sounds on "Ramanujan," where he plays the tarogato, a Hungarian reed instrument with a snake-charmer flave. Moran (for the record, my favorite contemporary pianist) plays some breathtaking solos: percussive, with a measured dissonance; at his most frenetic, he spews fusillades of notes, building to crescendos that make you scratch your head and wonder, "How does a fucker do that?" 4 stars —Eric Snider
The Sound of Philadelphia: Gamble & Huff's Greatest Hits
Conquer the World: The Lost Soul of Philadelphia International Records
In the 1970s, Philadelphia International Records cranked out single after single. Some were major hits; some were stiffs. These two single-disc collections represent each side of that continuum: The Sound of Philadelphia features iconic numbers like The O'Jays' "Love Train" and "Back Stabbers," Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones" and The Three Degrees' "When Will I See You Again," while Conquer the World roots around in the bottom of the vaults and includes songs by such unknowns as Pat & the Blenders, Bobby Bennett, and The Futures. One CD is targeted to those looking to get a fix of Philly-soul nostalgia in one handy helping, the other earmarked for rare-groove enthusiasts. The hits collection consistently presents PIR's trademark slinky soul with lush production and dollops of churning funk. The rare-groove disc is all over the map, from Bunny Sigler and Dee Dee Sharp's "Conquer the World Together," a bald-faced cop of Marvin and Tammy, to People's Choice's "The Big Hurt," a slickly produced shuffle blues, to the Motown-ish bounce of Carolyn Crawford's "Good and Plenty."
Conquer the World is full of punchy grooves, articulate arrangements and good singing. But these tunes didn't become hits. Why? To these ears, it's the songwriting. The chart-toppers on Sound of Philadelphia are, first and foremost, better songs. Sound of Philadelphia 4 stars Conquer the World 3.5 stars —ES