Album review: Jerry Cantrell – Brighten

Alice In Chains’ legendary guitarist Jerry Cantrell returns to Brighten these darkening days with his sensational first solo album in 19 years…

Album review: Jerry Cantrell – Brighten
Sam Law

Jerry Cantrell’s first two solo releases were the product more of necessity than choice. Following the retreat of Alice In Chains’ original vocalist Layne Staley from the public eye in 1996, their already-legendary guitarist would pour his pent-up inspiration into a pair of records that ached with frustration, misery and mania: 1998’s Boggy Depot and 2002’s Degradation Trip. Arriving 19 years down the line, third LP Brighten is a calmer, more reflective beast, its mixture of warmth and melancholy very much the product of two decades maturation and healing.

Jerry describes outstanding opening track and lead single Atone as a song that’s haunted him for 20 years. With its steely, sandblasted spaghetti-western aesthetic, however – indebted to the films of Sergio Leone and his great composer Ennio Morricone – it feels very much the result of the collaboration with Jerry’s neighbour Tyler Bates (Dawn Of The Dead, 300, John Wick) which sparked this project into life. Siren Song, too, feels like a spectacularly widescreen evocation of the Wild West.

As the album’s nine songs open out, other flavours come to the fore: grunge, obviously, but also spit-and-sawdust country-rock and even elements of folk. The title-track balances AIC-style menace (‘Only reap what you sow’) and breezier alt. tendencies. Prism Of Doubt is a masterful exercise in golden hour atmospherics. The brilliant Black Hearts And Evil Done builds up its jangling acoustic guitars, impassioned vocals and faintly Beach Boys-inflected chorus (‘Oh, here it comes / Equal to the sum’) to become an unexpectedly affecting highlight.

All the while, a broad cast of collaborators play their part. Old friend Duff McKagan brings his bass. Drummers Abe Laboriel Jr. (Paul McCartney) and Gil Sharone keep time, the latter having previously collaborated with Jerry on A Job To Do from the John Wick 2 soundtrack. Gil’s old Dillinger Escape Plan colleague (and current Black Queen / Killer Be Killed man) Greg Puciato provides backing vocals, writing his name on the shortlist of worthy vocal partners alongside Layne and current AIC singer William DuVall.

By the time the album concludes with a cover of Elton John’s 1971 classic Goodbye – a touching tribute to one of Jerry’s childhood musical heroes and a repayment, perhaps, for Elton’s contribution to the title-track from Alice In Chains’ Black Gives Way To Blue – Brighten’s vivid, contemporary self-portrait of one of the most distinctive voices in hard rock is complete. A long-overdue show of individual brilliance.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, The Black Queen

Brighten is out now via Double J

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