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Jerry Cantrell - Brighten Award winner

Jerry Cantrell
by Mark Machlay at 07 February 2022, 2:03 PM

The man behind the legendary grunge outfit ALICE IN CHAINS, guitarist Jerry Cantrell released his third solo album “Brighten” – the first in many years – this past October of 2021. After creating a trio of albums with AIC, front man Layne Staley may have retreated from the public eye but Cantrell still needed to fill his creative juices and thus got to work on what would be his first solo release – “Boggy Depot”, released in 1998 – after opening for one of the many KISS reunion tours in 1996. Seeing the future of AIC in further jeopardy, he got to work on his follow-up in 2000, selling his Seattle home - since he now lived in San Francisco – to fund and produce it himself. “Degradation Trip” would finally release in 2002 through Roadrunner Records. It was dedicated to his former bandmate, the late Staley as it hit shelves shortly after his death. There were rumors of a third solo album given the success of the follow-up but would remain only rumors for many years because of the revamped ALICE IN CHAINS lineup taking shape in 2005.

Asked in November 2014 during a radio interview with KLOS 95.5 if he had plans for more solo work, he responded, “I don’t know. Maybe somewhere down the road. The only reason I ever did anything by my own was because my band wasn’t really doing anything. My band has been doing things lately, so I don’t really have time to do anything. I kinda focus my energy there. Of course, you know, possibilities…” He showed an inkling of releasing some solo material with “A Job to Do”, his first solo song in 15 years that featured during the end credits of the second John Wick movie. He even played some solo concerts in 2019. It wasn’t until late January 2020 that he would announce he was working on a new solo album. He started recording at Dave’s Room Recording Studio in North Hollywood, California in March of that year. A year later, he announced completion of that album, posting on his Instagram with the caption, “Finished my record tonight one year to the day from when we started recording it. What a crazy journey, always is. Look forward to setting it upon your ear holes sometime soon.”

Thoroughly expecting to hear a lot of “dark yet harmonious” hard rock material that seemed at home on a typical ALICE IN CHAINS album, I was pleasantly surprised by the dives into other genres such as country, rockabilly, and folk at times on “Brighten”. Opening track and single “Atone” is the first step into the twanging guitars typical of country, playing out like spaghetti western film. Maybe we should thank his neighbor, composer Tyler Bates – who he worked with on the single for the John Wick film - for bringing his solo side out with a track that has very theatrical qualities. The tracks are quite varied as next track “Brighten” carries more typical AIC style vocal doubling but contains almost pop-ish hooks, while the following “Prism of Doubt” brings back the country twang – especially noticeable given the presence of pedal steel - going softer and has more of a singer-songwriter, almost folkish vibe. “Black Hearts and Evil Done” is a straight up a folk track with some leaning towards a southern rock ballad with bluesy leads sprinkled in. The great thing about true legends of rock like Cantrell is how consistent he is while other has-beens think they can just crank out some tunes to satisfy their fans without taking enough time to craft them. All the way to the end of the album – with the closer being a cover of Elton John’s 1971 classic “Goodbye” – he gives you quality through all the stylistic twists.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 8
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. Atone
2. Brighten
3. Prism of Doubt
4. Black Hearts and Evil Done
5. Siren Song
6. Had to Know
7. Nobody Breaks You
8. Dismembered
9. Goodbye
Jerry Cantrell – Lead vocals, Lead guitar, Bass & Keyboards
Greg Puciato – Background Vocals
Duff McKagan – Bass Guitar
Gil Sharone – Drums
Abe Laboriel Jr. – Drums
Tyler Bates – Strings, Percussion, Guitar
Vincent Jones – Piano, Keyboards, Strings
Jordan Lewis – Piano
Michael Rozon – Pedal Steel
Lola Bates – Background Vocals
Record Label: Independent


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