Jerry Cantrell’s solo records have always been something of an underrated gem outside of the Alice In Chains catalogue. As of this writing it’s been three years since AIC’s last album Rainier Fog and nearly twenty since Cantrell’s last solo record Degradation Trip, so the time is right (and in the latter case, quite overdue) for some new output. Hopefully that demand has finally been fulfilled with the release of Cantrell’s new LP Brighten, though it may take more than the record’s 9 tracks to fill the gap in his recent discography. Nevertheless, if some of the other records this year are any indication, quality almost always beats out quantity when it comes to music.
Brighten starts off darkly with “Atone”, a familiarly heavy, dirty swamp-grunge track equal parts Boggy Depot and AIC’s Tripod album. The title track offers a more upbeat contrast with Cantrell’s signature bluesy licks peppered throughout while “Prism of Doubt” is born of his more occasional country dabblings. “Black Hearts and Evil Done” ventures lap-steel-first along a similar path; at first “Siren Song” sounds like it could be the next “Unforgiven” or a Load outtake but quickly unfolds into cold, wintery solo Cantrell fare.
The Jar of Flies vibes are heavy (with a bit of Boggy in the mix too) on “Had To Know”, likewise “Nobody Breaks You” traffics in some elements of mid-90’s Alice as well, only with a bit more roots. From there it’s a seamless progression into the Jerry Fogerty mood of “Dismembered”, taking a left turn from there into the somber “Goodbye”. With its use of keys and strings with some slight guitar buried underneath, the 2-minute closer is essentially a compilation of all the “side” elements that aren’t front and centre but give the record its unique character.
To sum it up succinctly, Brighten is a fairly impressive record by first-record-in-a-long-time standards. Cantrell’s age obviously shows on this album (at least vocally) but he still manages to come with enough gusto and creativity to let the world know he’s a long way from falling off. AIC fans still await the follow-up to Rainier Fog, but Cantrell’s third album (fourth, if you count Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2) more than suffices as a stopgap in the meantime.