Arguably Rick Rubin's greatest move was telling Johnny Cash that all he needed was his voice and a guitar before they set off on their now iconic American series. Rock icon Chris Cornell returns with a fifth solo outing with a similar approach in mind and in doing so helps wash away the memory of the critically mauled and Timbaland-produced 'Scream'. Cornell has spent the past 30 years leading various outfits with his signature dark baritone and to mask it with silly arrangements is simply a crime against music.
Reaching into influences he hasn't had chance to truly explore in his group efforts, 'Higher Truth' presents Cornell as a tortured bluesman with just a little dash of grungy blue collar man to smooth things over. Teaming up with ever prolific rock producer Brendan O'Brien, the duo have managed to produce a tight twelve-track collection that should keep the avid and casual fan happy. There is no attempt to rewrite the book here, it's rather a respectful stab at good old Americana.
Opener 'Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart' sets the tone admirably with a little sparse bluegrass plucking that is soon accompanied by that unmistakable roar and solid drumming. 'Josephine' is a rock anthem disguising itself as a folk ballad, the kind of romantic number Tom Waits would have produced in the early days. Following 'Murderer Of Blue Skies' makes a fine contrast with lyrics all about an urge to leave a bad relationship rather than praise one. See what you did there, Chris.
'Only These Words' presents some rather dark introspection with quite a jaunty acoustic riff and becomes the album's poppiest moment (despite talk of fathers missing daughters). Closer 'Our Time In The Universe' opts for a slight Arabic edge that doesn't quite sit with the rest of the album's numbers but does deliver one of its finest vocal performances.
'Higher Truth' is by no means groundbreaking but it's damn solid and doesn't truly contain a bad number. It's one of rock's most acclaimed and beloved singers tackling the genre's roots with a relaxed touch. To be honest though, with his pipes, he could be singing an ode to baked beans and it'd still sound passable.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
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