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Smith - Kotzen - Smith - Kotzen Award winner

Smith - Kotzen
Smith - Kotzen
by Kevin Lewis at 03 May 2021, 4:57 PM

SMITH/KOTZEN is a Blues/Hard Rock group made up of two premier guitarists. Adrian Smith of IRON MAIDEN fame and Richie Kotzen of THE WINERY DOGS (and an extensive list of other credits) came together and just let the music flow. This record is nothing like either Adrian or Richie has done in the past, but man do they get it right. Their eponymous debut was released on March 26, 2021 through BMG.

There are no soaring vocals or screaming guitar solos on this record. Instead, there is one of the best Blues influenced Hard Rock albums of the past decade. With both men singing, there are some killer harmonies and both guitars are simply divine. The bass rhythms are consistent and really solid under the music. The drums maintain an even tempo and provide the other half of a foundation for this effort.

Right off the bat, “Taking My Chances” has a nice choppy riff with some nicely layered fills over the top of it. Wasting no time, both sing on this track, producing some nice harmonies and laying out a vibe for the album as a whole. The vocal ranges compliment each other and work very well together. Neither overpowers the other and this spills over into the guitar work. The trade off solos are unique and fun to hear. There is no shredding, just solid guitar work.

Running” is another mid-tempo, bluesy rocker with a ton of cool guitar and vocal interplay. This is followed by “Scars,” a slower, almost sludge/doom rock tune that uses darker tones and lyrics. With lines such as “Open your arms/I’ve been scarred/I hope you’re happy now” showing this is a song of pain and loss. The guitar tunings really support this and provide the perfect soundtrack to that pain.

Some People” and "Glory Road” are on the slower side, but with less of a doom feel. “Glory Road” is one of the closest songs to straight-up blues. They all lean in that direction, but some are harder Rock. This is quintessential blues, sounding like it could have been done along the Mississippi River 60 years ago.

Speeding things back up, “Solar Fire” is a faster song with the first guest drumming. Featuring Nicko McBrain of IRON MAIDEN, this is a song with a nice complex rhythm that shows a little of the harder edge these guys have on some of their other projects. Again, killer solos that shift back and forth between two of the best in the business. The way the guitars work together and play off each other is absolutely stunning.

The last three songs all feature Tal Bergman of THE WINERY DOGS fame. “You Don’t Know Me” is a slow burner that uses some beautiful guitar tunings to set a mood. Dark and contemplative, this is a song to listen to when you need to work through some things in your mind. The vocals wail in some sections, giving the song a feeling of angst and even a little desperation.

Wrapping up this fantastic record is “I Wanna Stay” and “’Til Tomorrow”. “I Wanna Stay” goes back to the bluesy feel and “’Til Tomorrow” revisits the more doom-laden sound. Both are very melodic and fit in the overall scheme of this album.

Start to finish, this is a consistent, very solid record that can reach a wide fan base. This is a guitar driven record without being a guitarists solo record. The talent is not shown with speed and dynamic showmanship, it just oozes out of every precisely placed note. The fact that it sounds so unique compared to what Adrian and Richie usually do is a bonus. This is a new sound for them, highlighting some of their influences. It is an extremely well-produced record that is well written, mixed and recorded. I really hope this is not a one-off deal.

Songwriting:  9
Musicianship:  10
Memorability:  9
Production:  9

4 Star Rating

1. Taking My Chances
2. Running
3. Scars
4. Some People
5. Glory Road
6. Solar Fire
7. You Don’t Know Me
8. I Wanna Stay
9. ‘Til Tomorrow
Adrian Smith – Guitar/Bass/Vocals
Richie Kotzen – Guitar/Bass/Drums/Vocals
Guest Musicians:

Tal Bergman– Drums
Nicko McBrain – Drums
Record Label: BMG


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