Wall of Sound

Jerry Cantrell: Boggy Depot
Columbia
Alternative
Rating: 79 [out of 100]

With this nifty solo debut, rock fans can finally see how utterly indispensable guitarist Jerry Cantrell was to his former (and, he says, still viable) band, Alice in Chains. Long held back by his confessed junkie-frontman bandmate Layne Staley, who couldn't hold himself together long enough to create much, let alone sing these days, the ordinarily prolific Cantrell has been cut loose, and Boggy Depot unleashes a very credible talent.

Joined by bassists Les Claypool of Primus, Pantera's Rex Brown, and Fishbone's Norwood, as well as Alice's rhythm section of Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney, Cantrell sounds delighted to be free from the social and musical chains of his band. While some cuts, "Cut You In" and "Dickeye" in particular, come off like prime slabs of A.I.C., Cantrell is more than comfortable going his own way on tracks like the Stonesy "My Song," the baroque ballad-rocker "Satisfy," and "Hurt a Long Time," which inches into Eagles-ish folk-rock territory before descending into an abyss of distortion and power.

Vocally, Cantrell maintains the kind of edgy, dark tone Staley made into an art form, only with less desperation. The clincher here, though, is his guitar playing. Always the instrumental focus of Alice in Chains, Cantrell alternates between tasteful and destructive, delicately dexterous and brutally tough. No, Alice fans need not rue the disintegration of their favorite Seattle gloom rockers. They need only turn to Mr. Cantrell, who, as it turns out, carried that band on his sizable shoulders longer than we ever realized, and has plenty of new destinations to explore.

--Bob Gulla