When I think of Jerry Cantrell I think of a little rock and roll dive club in Niles, MI called The White House in the summer of ’92. It was this literal old white house in the outskirts of Niles that had the best cover bands in the Michiana area. There were some bad ones, for sure. But there were also some pretty great ones. The biggest band that summer was Alice In Chains. If you were playing The White House that summer you had better have an Alice In Chains cover in your set list or you were not coming back to The White House.
Cantrell’s guitar playing and songwriting defined the post-grunge sound; dark and dreary but also melodic and tasteful. He’s carried that quality in both the post-Layne Staley years of AIC, as well as his own solo album career which began in 1998 with Boggy Depot. His latest is Brighten and is Cantrell’s third solo LP. He continues to write darkly-tinted rock and roll, but with swaths of blues, country, and alternative scattered throughout.
Produced by musician/film score composer Tyler Bates, Brighten is a tightly-produced rock record. Feeling both loose and tight, sometimes simultaneously, you hear Cantrell’s musical eccentricities come thru. Album opener “Atone” has a kind of a “marching into the abyss” vibe. Cantrell’s vocals are instantly recognizable. Title track “Brighten” has a blues swagger to it. It’s got a real late-90s alt-rock feel. “Prism of Doubt” goes for a real southern rock vibe and Cantrell pulls it off in the vocal department. It’s a breezy track with just a touch of downer thrown in for good measure. “Black Hearts and Evil Done” has a bit of that country sway as well.
Tracks like “Siren Song”, “Nobody Breaks You”, and “Dismembered” vary between dirge-y swamp metal of the past and acoustic strummers that let a little sunshine in on Cantrell’s rainy parade.
Listening to Brighten you get to hear the full spectrum of Cantrell’s musical loves. It’s obvious Jerry Cantrell grew up on 70s AM radio, which then led right into the age of AOR rock. This album takes all those integral influences and turns them into something quite unique, thoughtful, and relevant.
7.5 out of 10