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Jerry Cantrell
Boggy Depot

The guitarist on sabbatical from his or her regular gig is often a dicey proposition; without the support of a proper band, even the most righteous ax-wielder can fall flat. But with this solo venture, Alice In Chains' Jerry Cantrell proves himself to be as solid a songwriter and all-around musician as he is a guitarist. Not every track here is riveting, and many bear a strong resemblance to AIC, but there are also lots of distinctive personality traits that bubble to the surface.

Driven by a familiar grind-and-groove approach, "Cut You In," "Dickeye," and "Keep the Lights On" are the most Alice-like tracks, successful for all the same melodic, muscular reasons. Yet interspersed with the fiery rock outbursts are some surprising departures. "Settling Down" and "Cold Piece" revolve around Cantrell's moody piano work -- the latter veering boldly into jazzy terrain with stretches of funky rhythms and some dissonant twinges here and there. When it comes to singing, Cantrell lacks Layne Staley's bristling edge, but his more subtle vocal attack lends itself well to mellower interludes like the dreamy brooding of "Satisfy," the bittersweet country tang of "Hurt a Long Time," and the biting, bemused commentary of "Between."

An impressive retinue of guest musicians enhances the textures and flavors of the music. In addition to AIC's rhythm section (drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez), bassist Rex Brown of Pantera, Primus mastermind Les Claypool, and Fishbone's Norwood Fisher each set a spell, and Fisher's band mate Angelo Moore injects some bracing saxophone work into "Cold Piece" and "Cut You In."

As dazzling as Alice In Chains is on a good day, the good days have been growing fewer and farther between in recent years. Judging by Boggy Depot, Cantrell might have more better days ahead of him following his own path; it will be interesting to see how far he chooses to pursue it.

-- Sandy Masuo