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The Afghan Whigs were one of the exceptions to the rule for 90s rock. They were the dark horses that never quite fit into the Seattle sound or the indie slacker vibe of bands like Pavement. They worshipped at the altar of rock, soul and R’n’B and with Greg Dulli’s confessional singing and brutally naked lyrics they sidestepped major success while at the same time developing a loyal and dedicated fan-base.
Summer’s Kiss is a labor of love, a tribute to the power and the passion of The Afghan Whigs and it works by focussing on the songs rather than employing high profile names to cover them. Dulli’s partner in The Gutter Twins – Mark Lanegan – is the most recognisable name amongst the contributors but there are a number of highlights alongside his ominous take on Twilight.
Wussy sound remarkably like REM on their version of Retarded and they give it the loose and ragged college rock treatment. This is the kind of version you would expect on a compilation that only paid cursory respect to the essence of The Afghan Whigs. What Summerkiss Records have done so lovingly is cast the spotlight on the bands soul side.
My Jerusalem, which features Dave Rosser of Gutter Twins/Twilight Singers, deliver a gorgeous rendition of 66 with a warm string laden soul groove that sounds like it could keep going forever with its effortless vibe. Sonny Oaks does a similar thing on Uptown Again but this time with a Stax funk groove added to it. Swirling organ and maracas suit the song perfectly and when the backing vocals kick in it is a perfect summer afternoon uplifting moment.
Susan Marshall provides some relief from the testosterone angst with her sultry take on Going To Town from the Black Love album. She gives it the steamy late night mood that the song screams out for and you can feel the desire and lust in her rich voice.
Some songs don’t work as well as others. Chess Club don’t have the darkness to do justice to When We Two Parted and the metal guitar and synth bass that The Domani International use on Debonair falls flat. Its a lost opportunity for one of The Afghan Whigs signature songs.
Summer’s Kiss serves its purpose well. It shines a light on the brilliance of The Afghan Whigs songs and as all good tribute albums should do it provides some different angles and interpretations. It shows how (against the music of the time) rock and soul music was woven together to magical effect by those Ohio ‘Gentlemen’.
Summer’s Kiss is out now on Summerkiss Records.