Jerry Cantrell — Brighten (Double J Music)

Four tracks into Brighten and there’s an utterly compelling, timely reminder of Jerry Cantrell’s unique and ubiquitous talent.

Black Hearts And Evil Done is, without doubt, one of the finest songs you’ll hear all year.

It’s a rousing addition to Cantrell’s brief but brilliant solo canon.

A spectacular affirmation that the Alice In Chains man has lost none of his creative verve.

And a six-minute showcase of just what’s possible when the musical stars align.

Finely tuned layers of acoustic guitars jostle for position with light touches of pedal steel and a near perfect piano melody to tug on the heartstrings and tease the senses.

But it’s Cantrell’s still-haunting voice that elevates this remarkable track to an unexpected new level.

Co-producer and film composer Tyler Bates brings a cinematic feel to a subtle yet all-consuming soundscape.

And Cantrell calls upon four decades of assured songwriting to ensure there’s no drift or dithering.

Black Hearts And Evil Done might be the longest song here but it’s also the most focused.

It’s the track that binds together two halves of a truly affecting album.

And it’s the sound of Cantrell coolly rolling back the years and casually reprising those lazy, hazy Degredation Trip days.

Brighten shines a light on Cantrell’s solo career

Can it really be almost 20 years since Degredation Trip’s double album deep dive represented an acute change in pace from 1998’s Boggy Trip?

Why Cantrell has waited so long to kickstart his solo career is anyone’s guess.

But Brighten is yet another illuminating example of an artist emboldened by creative freedom.

It would be easy for Cantrell to trade on his AIC roots.

And yet the 55-year-old’s solo work has always represented a different side to a complex character.

On Brighten he’s joined by Duff McKagan, Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato, pedal steel maestro Michael Rozon and more.

And Cantrell’s star-studded collaborators ensure a constantly evolving album remains an unpredictable as it is reassuring.

McKagan makes his considerable presence felt on six of the songs here…including the standout Black Hearts And Evil Done.

The Guns N Roses man brings a sense of urgency to the high tempo title track and adds the blues rock rhythm to urgent opener Atone.

And it’s McKagan’s flawless partnership with Gil Sharone on Atone that ensures there’s no false start to a fabulously consistent record.

Brighten might carry Cantrell’s name but the supporting cast plays a pivotal role.

Jerry Cantrell can…and does

According to the man himself recording Brighten was like making ‘an old school 70s record’.

And we’d love Cantrell to make more of the same.

Blues, Americana and classic rock are fused with those trademark, gritty, grunge-fuelled vocals to dizzying effect.

There’s some wonderful Wurlitzer and some wizard-like mixing from the magical Joe Barresi (Tool, Queens Of The Stone Age).

And there’s even an Elton John approved cover of Goodbye to close a cleverly conceived set.

Brighten is a once-in-a-generation record that succeeds in challenging convention and reigniting the passion of its catalyst in chief.

Cantrell will always be synonymous with AIC’s finer moments and yet his solo career is deserving of way more respect and critical acclaim.

Two decades in the making, the follow-up to Degredation Trip is a true delight.

Is it still possible to reinvent ‘rock’?

If anyone can, Jerry can.