Brett Copeland wears his loves on his sleeve. He isn’t the sort of singer or performer we’re ever going to catch faking it for our favor and performing material that he doesn’t believe in one hundred and ten percent. He makes no distinctions between originals and covers. One listen to his new astonishing rendition of the Alice in Chains’ classic “Nutshell” shows Copeland relates to this tortured “alternative rock” classic on a visceral level. It isn’t about finding something that works well with his voice. It’s about something that strikes a chord within.
Anyone unfamiliar with Alice in Chains’ music and expecting thunderous detuned guitar riffing will be disappointed. Copeland never tries aping the original’s vocal mannerisms too closely, it is a fool’s errand trying to dislodge the deceased legend from his status as the song’s foremost interpreter, so Copeland sets about making the song his own. He possesses his own unique soulfulness that colors his phrasing, attitude, and interaction with the instruments without ever disrespecting the original. I think it is safe to assume “Nutshell” is a song Copeland knew long before deciding to record it, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. He’s engaged with every moment.
He works with the same core band supporting him on prior singles. Drummer Zachary St. John and bassist Tommy Black deserve particular mention as Copeland’s engine room provides plenty of urgency for the song. Guitarist Yohai Portal serves up tasty playing throughout the song that, like Copeland’s vocal approach, contends with the long shadow of a legend, Jerry Cantrell, without ever shirking from the task or blinking in its face.
There’s several qualities about Brett Copeland’s music that leap out for me. The predominant strength I notice each time out is the passion crackling off every line. Playing rock originals, covering classics, none of these releases are calculated financial decisions aimed towards fattening his wallet. To use an old cliché and put it bluntly, Brett Copeland means it. Another key element of his presentation is the lack of reverence in this track. It’s respectful, yes, but there’s never a second where you’ll feel like all he wants is to produce a note for note copy.
He wants us to feel some of the same spark he experiences hearing this song. It likely says something for him much more personal than this review can cover. He’s been a busy guy lately, Copeland doesn’t sit still for long, and we can add his take on the Alice in Chains classic to the same high perch occupied by his earlier rendition of the U2 song “Where the Streets Have No Name”. No one can accuse him of playing it safe.
It bodes well too that he continues working with the same cast of collaborators. Copeland shares obvious chemistry with Portal, Black, and St. John that isn’t easily duplicated or replaced. His originals thus far, along with the covers, likewise promise they are just now beginning to scratch the surface of their considerable potential. Brett Copeland’s “Nutshell” is intelligent, passionate, and hints at even greater things to come.