Jerry Cantrell – Brighten

It’d been nineteen years since Jerry Cantrell, the fucking Riff God himself, release a solo record, 2002’s Degradation Trip. And a lot has happened since that time, in particular the completely unexpected REBIRTH of Alice In Chains with their 2009 comeback MASTERPIECE, Black Gives Way To Blue. From that point on, minus a song that was recorded for the John Wick: Chapter 2 soundtrack, it was largely assumed that Cantrell would never release a full-fledged solo record again. In fact, when asked about a future solo record by Guitar World in 2018, he told them that the only reason he even recorded two solo records was because he didn’t have a band, and now he does again, thus Alice being his ultimate priority.

He wasn’t wrong ladies, there was a shit ton of unfinished business with Alice In Chains.

So, if you weren’t surprised when it was announced that he was performing a few solo shows just months before the greatest year and a half of my life took place, you were a dumb motherfucker. I was even more stunned when, not too long after those shows took place, it was announced that he WAS, in fact, going to record a new solo album. I sure didn’t know what to expect. You didn’t either, especially once the video for “Atone” was released on Rolling Stone’s website a few months ago.

I knew what NOT to expect. But I certainly didn’t imagine that “Atone” would come out sounding like something out of any Western style movie with a soundtrack composed by Ennio Morricone. As fate would have it, it’s what Jerry was looking for. As fate would also have it, holy fuck does it sound fucking great! It may sound like a modernized “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, but it also has Jerry’s signature songwriting style all over it, along with the Open D Major tuning he’s used on and off since Alice’s 1995 self-titled album. And, for as much as I will never forgive Duff McKagan for being the bassist for Guns ‘N’ Roses, I really does like some of the fills he plays here.

The next single to drop, as well as the second track on the record is “Brighten”, the title track. Very different sounding from “Atone”. I can’t begin to tell you how pleasantly surprised I was to see Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums for this video and song. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, Abe, who I’d first read about in Modern Drummer Magazine in the late 90’s, is a very talented drummer who’s been in Paul McCartney’s touring band since 2001. This is more of a Rock tune in every way.

The next track is “Prism of Doubt”. A mid-tempo track of sorts, it sounds unusually happy, or at least introspective. The pedal steel guitars, fit right in. The aura created by the track makes me think of driving aimlessly on a desert road while your girl has her head out the window, or if your friends in the backseat have their hands out.

Spoiler alert: there’s more pedal steel guitars where those came from.

“Black Hearts and Evil Done” is a largely acoustic guitar-only track…with more Pedal Steel Guitars. If I thought that the previous track was lyrically introspective, I hear more of that on this number. The opening lines, “Too many heads broke too many times/Tired of the same joke, tired of the grind/Coming down’s a bit low, harder to stay/Same punk in the mirror, different the day” hits a little too close to home as I’m trying desperately to change my own life around. I feel the aches of living a mundane life oozing out of this track, as I work two jobs daily with no true break, all so I can transition smoothly out of one of them.

I’m just curious about the second verse. I’m not the biggest fan of musicians getting political. While Jerry never named names here, or particular events, I wonder what he’s referring to when he sings “Tired of the lies spun in the land of the free/Sеlling out’s a mission, kneel, settle, assume/Samе crook in the White House prospecting me and you”.

“Siren Song” can almost be “Breaks My Back” Pt. 2. If you’ve never heard “Breaks My Back”, here’s your chance now. It just has that aura about it. It’s actually one of my favorite tracks on the record because it sounds so sensual at points. Jerry ALWAYS knows what to play and when to play it.

“Had To Know” is just fun. And no pedal steel guitars here! Holy shit! But it does contain an organ. I really love the organ solo followed by Jerry’s solo. It’s on this track that backing vocalist Greg Puciato can actually be heard outside of the title track. He’s not mixed too loud on most of this album, which is a relief because I hate him thanks to his previous band.

Dillinger Escape Plan sucks. Fuck them and him.

“Nobody Breaks You” is a lyrically powerful song. If “Black Hearts” tackles life as an existential nightmare, this targets the idea of at least trying to “get out”. “Nobody breaks you like you in your heart”, Jerry sings. Almost sounds like life advice, no? It’s as if he’s telling us all to believe in ourselves…or at least to not take on a victim mentality and take action to change our lives for the better, as only we can do so in the end.

I fucking loved “Dismembered”. Don’t let the Alice sounding title fool you; “Dismembered” is nothing like that and a hell of a lot more of an idea of the type of song the late Glenn Frey and Keith Richards would’ve written if they ever collaborated together in 1972. It’s the perfect mix of the Country Rock style that put the Eagles on the map pre-Hotel California and the Boogie Woogie style the Stones would’ve performed during that time. It’s another song that conjures up images of driving on an open road or getting hammered even in a nasty ass roadhouse somewhere in the mid-west.

Jerry chose to close this incredible record with a cover of Elton John’s “Goodbye” off his landmark 1971 album Madman Across the Water. It’s a cover so faithful to the original that it even received approval from the old Queen himself! This isn’t to say that Cantrell can suddenly sing like Elton John in his prime because Elton hasn’t sounded like Elton since the 70’s came to a close. However, for those of you not in the know regarding Jerry’s relationship with Elton: Jerry asked him to play piano on the closing title track to Black Gives Way to Blue. Elton was so moved by the lyrical content that he immediately agreed to do so. Jerry grew up listening to Elton John long before he was introduced to Black Sabbath, thus making a song like “Goodbye” childhood verse, more or less.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Brighten is not what you expected, or perhaps even hoped for from Jerry Cantrell. After nineteen long years, what were you really expecting again? He’s no longer in the headspace needed to record Boggy Depot or Degradation Trip. He’s actually happy and he’s only out solo because for once, he just wants to, not through necessity. That being said, it’s rather fitting that the songs sound happier in a musical context, more outgoing in lyrical stature. Brighten, when compared to its predecessors, is very much a 70’s era Country Rock album with multiple guest musicians, incredible song writing and something for every fan of Jerry’s to latch on to and enjoy.

Brighten gets 4 out of five middle fingers!

The End: Black Sabbath live and SOLD OUT at Madison Square Garden February 25th, 2016

I tried to see Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne on vocals on two different occasions.  Now, I intended on writing about this in other blogs as I went through all the concerts I went to, but I feel that would take forever and it would make sense to write about it now since I’m about to discuss the show I just went to.  When I went to see them at Ozzfest 2004 in Camden, NJ,  drummer Bill Ward came out before the band was to play and announced that Ozzy was too sick to play and Rob Halford of Judas Priest was going to sing in his place.  You couldn’t be there and complain much after that!  The next year, before we even got in inside the PNC Bank Arts Center, the girl checking our tickets told my ex-guitarist Chad and I “No Black Sabbath tonight”.  Why this time?  “Because Ozzy’s sick.”  Sure, Iron Maiden played an extended set that night but I was convinced that night that I’d never see Sabbath with Ozzy…and that Ozzy’s voice is just toast.

So when I got wind, a few weeks ago, that Sabbath had to cancel gigs in Canada because Ozzy lost his voice, the only thing I could assume was that my friend Frank was going to have to get a refund.  Little did I know how wrong I would be…and some more.  But I’ll get to that in a bit.

I arrived last night at Madison Square Garden with high expectations for the band and incredibly low expectations for Ozzy. Fuck, I really just wanted to see Tony Iommi anyway.  But I was also looking very much forward to reuniting with my buddy Frank, who got us the tickets, as well as seeing the opening bands, Rival Sons.  Rival Sons got on stage and goddamn they sound even more like Led Zeppelin live than on record!  The most obvious sign of it on their albums is the John Bonham-like drum sound.  But live, Jay Buchanan did some loud ass wailing while barefoot – that he at least had me convinced that Robert Plant found a way to defy age and join Rival Sons.  At one point Frank and I were jokingly singing Zep song titles into two of their songs because they sounds THAT MUCH like Zep songs.  I think the last time I heard anyone sound like Zep to the T was Billy Squier when he recorded “Lonely Is The Night”.

 

To our surprise we didn’t have to wait long for Sabbath to come on.  The lights in the Garden went out at 8:45pm, definitely earlier than expected.  As the sold out crowd was ROARING in excitement  a video came up on the screen.  We saw burning buildings that represented the artwork from their most recent album, 13.  Then it got really weird, like something out of a fucking Final Fantasy game.  But you can see part of it here:

So, as you can see and hear, they opened up with the title track to their self-titled debut.  And from their the broke into the classic “Fairies Wear Boots”.  Say what you want about Ozzy’s solo drummer, Tommy Clufetos, taking Bill Ward’s place for the last few years as well as the fact that his style is not as jazzy or loose as Bill’s.  But he did a really good job emulating Bill’s parts and making him his own.  Do I wish Bill was there?  Hell fuck yeah I do!  But I have to give Tommy respect for making it clear that he was paying his respects.  His DW drum kit even looks like Bill’s Tama set to the T!

Geezer Butler, as usual, was on FIRE last night!  He bass tone, even from where I was sitting in the nosebleed section, was so strong and crystal clear.  HIs fingers were moving so fast on those strings.  His playing, both wild with abandon yet perfectly arranged.  There really is no one like him.  No one.

Which brings me to Lita Ford’s favorite Superhero…as well as the main reason I even wanted to go: Tony Iommi.  This is it for him.  He’s sick, tired, stressed.  No matter what the other guys want to do after this all ends I wouldn’t expect to see him out on the road again.  The lymphoma treatments are clearly taking their toll on him.  But he still put on probably the most amazing show I’ve ever seen from him and this was the fourth time I’ve seen Tony live overall.  His playing was so fluid, so smooth yet so BRUTAL.  His riffs – so horrifying, so scary, so BRUTAL.  This motherfucker CREATED the style of music I love so much as is the primary reason I play guitar.  There will NEVER be anyone like Tony Iommi ever again.  Ever.

Then there was that big shocker of the night that I eluded to earlier.  Ozzy Osbourne, not known to have had a great singing voice since the mid 9o’s…actually sounded good!  I shit you not!  I’m pretty sure the key was that the band played songs that Ozzy could handle, which meant not straying far from their first three albums much if at all.  If you knew anything about how the guy destroyed his voice over the years you knew there was no way he was pulling out “Sabbath Blood Sabbath” or even “Megalomania” for that matter.  Although I was surprised to hear them play “Snowblind” and even more surprised to hear Ozzy hit the high notes without struggle!  He was shockingly on point last night…I guess the third time was the charm after all, eh?

THE SETLIST:

Intro video/Black Sabbath

Jack The Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots

After Forever

Into The Void (\m/\m/\m/\m/!!!!!!)

Snowblind

Wars Pigs

Behind The Wall Of Sleep/Bass Solo/NIB

Hand Of Doom

Rat Salad/Drum Solo

Iron Man

Dirty Women

Children Of The Grave

Encore: Paranoid (well, duh!)

Like I said, the band pretty much hovered around the first three albums which the exceptions of “Snowblind” and especially “Dirty Women”.  Not that Ozzy sang high in that song; but I doubt anyone expected them to pull out something off Technical Ecstacy, which was not their best album during the Ozzy years.  Either way, it was incredibly effective.  My head hurt so much from headbanging yet I refused to stop.  After the show ended we witnessed some guy who was so drunk he nearly fell down the stairs and that would have been a fucking long way down.  He instead fell on his ass and as he when to get his cigarette, which was already lit up, he mistakenly put the lit side in his mouth!

The show was in-fucking-credible, what a fitting way to say goodbye to the band that started it all.  In fact, they are playing another show at the Garden tomorrow night and will be touring through September.  Without them, and especially without Tony Iommi, there would be no heavy metal as we know it now.  For that I’ll always be thankful.