The Winery Dogs

GUEST REVIEW: The Winery Dogs – The Winery Dogs (by Jon Wilmenius)

After hearing so much praise for The Winery Dogs, I finally bought a copy.  I decided for now there was no point in writing a review:  After all, Jon Wilmenius already said it all.  So for my own review, all I’ll write is:  “What he said!”  Enjoy this review from Jon’s own excellent site, Music and Festival Reviews, reprinted with his kind permission.

Read the original here.

GUEST REVIEW by: Jon Wilmenius

THE WINERY DOGS – The Winery Dogs (2013 Loud & Proud)

Way back in the late 80′s / early 90′s supergroups were popping up like mushrooms in your garden. Bands like Bad English, Mr Big and Badlands had big success with the odd album or two before breaking up, but when the 90′s grunge era took over, supergroups were as rare as money on your bank account. Today, things have turned around and with the music industry looking like it does, musicians are forming different projects and bands with each other like never before. One guy that seems to involved a little everywhere are former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy. As of now he is involved in no less than four different bands, Transatlantic, Flying Colors, Adrenaline Mob and now this thing. When The Winery Dogs started out in 2011, they consisted of Portnoy, bassist Billy Sheehan of Mr Big (formerly of Talas and David Lee Roth) and guitarist / lead singer John Sykes (Tygers Of Pan Tang, Thin Lizzy, Whitensake, Blue Murder), but since Sykes seemed to have too much on his mind, he decided to split and was replaced by multi musician and guitar player / lead singer Richie Kotzen, who also has a successful solo career going on, but also a former member of Poison, Mr Big and Forty Deuce.

Without hearing a note of their music, just by looking at the line up makes expectations rise like a virgin’s dong at the Playboy Mansion. That means that nothing worse than ‘great’ would be acceptable for this trio’s debut release. Now, I don’t know how much music that was written with Sykes in the band and how much of it that ended up on this album, but the fact is, Kotzen is all over this record. Kotzen’s solo career sky rocketed after he got the boot from Poison, at least quality wise and even a tone-deaf  could spot his style miles away. Just listen to Poison’s Native Tongue, the best album they ever released, and you’ll hear pretty fast which songs he brought to the table. He really should re-record them as a solo artist someday. So, if you’re a fan of Kotzen’s, this album is a no-brainer – as a matter of fact, it really should be a no-brainer for any a rock fan to buy this CD, because this is amazing stuff. “Elevate” kicks this album into motion with a bang, a rootsy rocker that sounds a lot like Richie’s solo stuff only with Sheehan’s famous and personal bass sound and Portnoy’s heavy groove. “Desire” follows and it is a brilliant tune, full of catchiness and groovy rhythms, “I’m No Angel” has a fantastic refrain and a killer melody, you’re stuck after the first chorus, on “The Other Side”, Sheehan and Portnoy totally rules the groove and the bass and drums are both one and separated at the same time and they give us a brilliant blues ballad in “You Saved Me”. It has a bit of a U2 – feel and Kotzen sings the hell out of it. The guy has got some feel, to say the least.

Both “Not Impossible” and “One More Time” has a lot of Kotzen over them and I find myself thinking that they probably would have been a great fit on his last album 24 Hours. “Six Feet Deeper” has a major swing to it and it strikes me that this is the first album I have heard where Mike Portnoy plays rock ‘n’ roll like this. I mean, he’s an amazing drummer, but his skills has always been in progressive metal where he doesn’t groove that much. This album shows that Portnoy is a lot more all round than people might think. “Criminal” on the other hand, is a heavy piece – not a far cry from how a Kotzen fronted Mr Big would sound. “The Dying” is a ballad, but it leans way more towards heaviness than anything else which is really cool – and it is a great song. The album ends with “Regret”, a classic Kotzen ballad, very bluesy in a 70′s style. Wow! This really is a super trio and they have made one hell of a debut album and hopefully enough people will buy this to convince the guys to keep this project alive. Another thing, has Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy ever played with such a groove like they do here? I mean, they are both ace players and with Kotzen, groove is in his blood, but on here Sheehan and Portnoy really makes the rhythm section swing. When we’re writing January 2014 and making a list on the best albums of 2013, this album will no doubt be up there as a contender for the number one spot. Jon says: Get this!

Jon Wilmenius (9/10)

 

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REVIEW: Electric Joy by Richie Kotzen (1991)

Classic Kotzen! For a look at the new album by his new supergroup The Winery Dogs, check out Jon Wilmenius’ excellent review.

RICHIE KOTZEN – Electric Joy by Richie Kotzen (1991 Shrapnel)

Albums by Richie Kotzen were impossible to find in Canada.  My only exposure to his music was “Dream of a New Day”, from his second album Fever Dream.  Fever Dream was his first vocal album, but Kotzen returned to instrumentals on his third, Electric Joy.  I’d seen his picture in dozens of guitar magazines, but hadn’t heard his tunes until “Dream of a New Day” was included on the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack.

His debut album was a hit with the shredders, but three albums in, Kotzen had already delivered three completely different pieces of work.  Electric Joy has some of the playfulness of the debut, but is mostly a jaw-dropping collection of intricately composed pieces that skirt multiple genres including funk, country, bluegrass, jazz, fusion, and blues.  If I had to pick out an influence, I would say that Electric Joy sounds like Richie had been listening to a lot of the “two Steves”:  Vai and Morse.  His technique is top-notch.

I first got this on a trip to Frankenmuth, Michigan.  My parents made a point of going there every spring and I started tagging along, and then later on my friend Peter joined us as well.  We’d stay at the Bavarian Inn and on the way back to Ontario, we’d stop at the stores in Port Huron, where I found this as well as old rare Savatage cassettes.

“B Funk” opens the album with some light-speed bluegrass-y licks, but it keeps changing, from a funked up rocker with shredding, to a melodic “chorus” section.  Then it’s back to the bluegrass from space.

At this point I’ll point out that Kotzen plays all the instruments except drums, himself.  That’s Richie’s standby Atma Anur on drums.  What this means is, that incredibly dexterous bassline you’re hearing on “B Funk” is also performed by Kotzen!  And it’s almost every bit as stunning as the guitar!

“Electric Toy” begins ballady, with some lyrical Vai-like moments.  Of course, Kotzen can’t help but do what he does, so there are different sections, some at lickity-split tempos.  This is followed by “Shufina”, which is essentially a blues jam.  Kotzen’s deep bends are appropriate, but before too long he’s harmonizing with himself on some unconventional melodies.

A smoking hot riff ignites “Acid Lips”, little lightning licks flicker in and out, but this one has a solid groove.  (It can’t be easy grooving with yourself on bass.)  “Slow Blues” contains some of Richie’s most lyrical lead work.  If you can imagine the lead guitar taking on the role of a singer, then “Slow Blues” is probably the most accessible song on the album.

The next song “High Wire” is uncatagorizable, suffice to say that like all of Electric Joy it combines quirky notes with shreddery, funk and groove.  My favourite song is “Dr. Glee”.  It sounds like it seems it should – gleeful.  I find this pleasant melody to be very summery.  Kotzen guitar has so many different sounds and shades, even just within this one song.

“Hot Rails” is another one that sounds like advertized…a train racing down the track.  Kotzen’s slide work is anything but simple.  This one’s so fast it’s hard to keep track of all the cool different guitar parts.  It almost sounds like Kotzen wrote a blues shuffle, and then decided to hit fast forward on his tape deck and learn it at that speed!

Electric Joy closes with “The Deece Song”, which thankfully is mid-tempo allowing us to catch our collective breath.  It’s another great performance, similar in style to “Dr. Glee”.  It has its sweeping Satriani moments as well.

The production on the album is very dry, which is different from what a lot of the other instrumentalists were doing at the time.  While this means it might take some more time to penetrate an album that is loaded to the brim with dense ideas already, it is a worthwhile endevour.

In a bizarre turn of events, Kotzen briefly put his solo career on hold.  He received a phone call from Bret Michaels.  The Poison frontman was looking for a replacement for the departed CC Deville.  The fact that Kotzen was from Pennsylvania, not already in a band, and wrote and sang original material caught Michaels’ eye in a magazine article.  Having a shredder, but one with some feel too, might garner Poison some respect in the tough 1990’s.

Kotzen did succeed in co-writing (and in some cases, writing entire songs himself) their most accomplished album, Native Tongue.  Of course, it did not sell.  The Poison relationship imploded because of another relationship: the one that Kotzen was secretly having with drummer Rikki Rockett’s fiance!  Kotzen eventually married her, and he was replaced in Poison by another shredder, Blues Saraceno (who was in the running with Kotzen in the first place).

As for Electric Joy?

4/5 stars

ELECTRIC JOY