The Lowdown: As one of the main creative forces of Alice in Chains for decades, singer-guitarist Jerry Cantrell is responsible for penning some of rock’s all-time great guitar riffs. He has remained busy with Alice in Chains (regularly issuing albums and touring after the arrival of singer William DuVall in 2006), and as a result, his solo career took a backseat — his last solo offering, Degradation Trip, dropped all the way back in 2002. So, nearly 20 years later, Cantrell is ready to go at it solo once more with Brighten.
For the new album, he enlisted the aid of such renowned names as Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, ex-Dillinger Escape Plan singer Greg Puciato (who supplies background vocals), and producer/composer Tyler Bates, among several additional respected musicians.
The Good: Although there is still plenty of Cantrell’s “dark yet harmonious” rock heard throughout Brighten, there is also an unmistakable “country twang” detected — especially on the album opening “Atone,” plus “Black Hearts and Evil Done” and “Prism of Doubt” (thanks in large part to the presence of pedal steel on the latter track). And while the late Layne Staley will always come to mind first and foremost as the definitive lead singer for Alice in Chains, Cantrell has always been a significant vocal contributor to the band. And he proves to be in fine voice throughout Brighten.
From start to finish, Brighten is a consistent listen. And in a day and age where an increasing number of artists are content merely issuing singles or a handful of songs, it’s reassuring to see there are still some who favor the “album format” and taking the listener on a journey of a full set of songs. Mr. Cantrell certainly accomplishes the feat on this nine-track release. As the album’s co-producers, Cantrell and Bates do a dandy job dialing things in sonically.
The Bad: While not really a negative, there are certain parts of songs on Brighten that sound like they would have been custom-made for Staley or DuVall to vocalize on, perhaps leaving listeners yearning for the full-blown Alice in Chains experience. In particular, the verses of “Siren Song,” the chorus of “Black Hearts and Evil Done,” and the entirety of “Nobody Breaks You.”
The Verdict: With Jerry Cantrell’s status as one of the most influential figures to come out of the grunge explosion, just getting a new recording from the rock legend should be appreciated and celebrated. But Brighten takes it all a step further, and more than measures up to his other solo efforts. Heck, in a lot of ways, it even matches (or even surpasses) a couple of the post-Layne-era Alice albums.
Essential Tracks: “Nobody Breaks You,” “Siren Song,” “Had to Know,” “Atone”
Editor’s Note: Check out Jerry Cantrell’s exclusive track-by-track breakdown of Brighten for Consequence here.