Jerry Cantrell – 'Brighten' Album Review
3. Prism Of Doubt
4. Black Hearts And Evil Done
5. Siren Song
6. Had To Know
7. Nobody Breaks You
God damn it Cantrell has done it again and knocked the ball outta the park.
I don’t know how he does it but with 'Brighten' Jerry Cantrell serves up a master class in Country influenced Southern Rock. It’s been nearly 20 years since Jerry Cantrell last released a solo album ('Degradation Trip') and a lot has happened since then – Alice in Chains reformation and 3 albums worth of material. In early 2020 after AIC had wrapped up their touring commitments for their last album ('Rainier Fog'), Jerry set about going into the studio to start work on his 3rd solo album. Well as we all know the world went to shit and people like Jerry had to adapt to be able to finish their albums. Jerry has openly admitted this was a different way of working as he wasn’t even in the room when some of the material was cut by certain musicians – not that you’d notice because the quality of the material here is quite frankly stunning.
For 'Brighten', Jerry has assembled a really diverse set of musicians to help him achieve something different. If you are expecting lots of sludgy AIC songs, then this isn’t the album for you. If, however you appreciate Jerry’s Country leanings that appeared way back on Boggy Depot then you will come to adore this album.
Jerry Cantrell – Guitar, bass, vocals, keys Greg Puciato – Background vocals Duff McKagan – Bass Gil Sharone – Drums Abe Laboriel Jr. – Drums Tyler Bates – Strings, percussion, guitar Vincent Jones – Piano, keys, & strings Jordan Lewis - Piano Michael Rozon – Pedal steel Lola Bates – Background vocals Matias Ambrogi-Torres – Strings
Atone: The album opener has a lot of swagger and is driven along by a great Country riff that is pretty dark and a very solid bass line courtesy of Duff McKagan. This was the first song to be released as a single for the album and as a mission statement it’s bang on.
Brighten: Pretty much sounds as the title says, it’s an upbeat song with some very catchy guitar work and is everything 'Atone' isn’t.
Prism Of Doubt: Here we go here is the first proper indication of how different this album is. On previous solo albums Jerry has let out little bits of his Country influence but here he dives in head-first and goes for broke. 'Prism Of Doubt' is a cross between Country & 70’s Southern Rock. The playing going on behind Cantrell is quite simply stunning.
Black Hearts And Evil Done: My personal favourite of the album. I’m not really a Country fan but when someone like Jerry does a song like this its hard not to admire its beauty (the only other artist to have had this effect on me with Country style songs is Ginger Wildheart). I’ve always been intrigued by the sound of the pedal steel guitar, but I totally love how its used here. It’s a very positive sounding song all major chords and nothing like AIC. I could listen to this song for hours on end and at 6 minutes it’s the longest track on the album. You can never accuse Jerry of having guitar solo’s that offer nothing to the song, here as always Cantrell’s guitar solo adds another layer to this great song. I love the vocal line of “out with the old stuff in with the new”.
Siren Song: A very atmospheric number and the third single released from 'Brighten'. This song is probably the closest Jerry gets to AIC territory, but the pedal steel once again plays a huge part in the songs. When it’s used it’s not in the typical Country sense but adds a very eerie tone that suits the overall dark vibe of the song.
Had To Know: A more upbeat Rock song that upswings the mood once more – The use of classic keys makes this song scream 70’s Southern Rock and not in a bad way. Hearing the keys reminded me of sounds I’d have heard on some of my folks’ albums they played when I was a kid.
Nobody Breaks You: Another great Country influenced song by Jerry. We all know Jerry is a great vocalist by his work in AIC with both Layne (RIP) and William, yes on this album Greg Puciato has helped add a layer to the vocals but when Jerry goes full on Country with his voice, I think it’s going to shock some people how good a singer he really is. 'Nobody Breaks You' is an epic song that twists and turns whilst offering some of the best parts on the album.
Dismembered: 70’s Southern Rock Jerry Cantrell style at its best, for every slower slightly darker song on 'Brighten' their appears to be its opposite and 'Dismembered' is one of those positive songs that we often don’t associate with Jerry. Having said that at times on this song there are some rather tasty AIC guitar lines that shift the sound before coming back to the upbeat sounds (I mean come on did you really thing there was not going to be anything that resembled AIC?).
Goodbye: A cover of an Elton John song. If you know anything about Jerry Cantrell, then you’ll know he’s a huge Elton John fan and having had Elton play on AIC’s tribute to Layne Black Gives Way To Blue it seems rather fitting for Jerry to cover one of Elton’s song. It’s a very sombre ending to the album and not something you’d really expect from Jerry given how the rest of the album has gone but even though it’s a bit of a curve ball it’s very strong ending.
Let’s get one thing out in the open right now. I’m a huge fan of AIC & Jerry’s solo work. I’ve been hounding the press guys to get hold of a copy of this album as I’ve really been wanting to hear it. Side note: I’ve already spent a load of money on ordering the three vinyl singles from this album as well as the actual album so I can’t wait to get my physical copies of these tunes
Sometimes when you wait and want to hear an album so bad you can be let down. Thankfully this isn’t the case, I love how Jerry has stepped out of his normal box and gone down the Country style of songs. I’ve always admired Jerry’s ability to have this in his back pocket and occasionally let it shine. With 'Brighten' Jerry has found the perfect balance of light and dark or yin and yang if you will. For every slightly sombre song there is its positive upbeat equivalent which keeps the balance in check and I think this is what makes the album so special. Sure, with the 70’s vibe there is a whiff of nostalgia about the album, but not everything has to be forward looking or ground-breaking. Sometimes you’ve just got to look back, acknowledge your roots and just pay tribute. 'Brighten' for some, (between the ages of 40-50) will no doubt trigger memories of parents 70’s Rock LP’s with its sounds and that ain’t a bad thing.
'Brighten' has its work cut out as there have been some brilliant albums released this year, but make no mistake this album deserves to be right up there at the end of the year when it comes to picking top album lists.
So how do I score this album? Sometimes there are albums you rate as 5-star because they blow you away at the moment you hear them (but you know you’ll drift away from them for a while before coming back to them) then there are albums like this that you just know are gonna really be with you for the long haul. 'Brighten' is one of those albums that I just want to play again after it finishes and I really hope if Jerry does another solo album he carries on down this route as I’ve loved 'Brighten' and it’s a definite 5/5 for me.
Website - jerrycantrell.com
Review - Aleutia Shannon