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Music Review: The Winery Dogs (Loud & Proud Records, CD)

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The Winery Dogs CD

The Winery Dogs CD

This new trio grouping guitarist/singer Richie Kotzen, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Mike Portnoy arrives fully realized, a real band right out of the gate—which doesn’t always happen with supergroups. Kotzen and Sheehan, who worked together in Mr. Big, are perfect foils, and when they go off on Van Halen-style runs and solos on tracks like the Zeppelin-esque “Elevate” (which recalls “Black Dog” with its stops and starts) and “Desire”, it’s a barrage of stringed virtuosity.

Kotzen’s also a powerful singer, with a howl that resembles Chris Cornell of Soundgarden as well as, at times, Paul Rodgers of Bad Company. And his guitar playing is a revelation—Kotzen’s fingerpicking technique gives the music a bit of country feel, and his “sweeping” style is stunning. He’s a fast player, a shredder for sure, but never at the expense of melody and tunefulness. Kotzen should instantly join the ranks of legendary guitar heroes on the strength of his playing on this album, and the accolades are well-deserved.

Sheehan is a monster on the bass. With his thick tone and nimble movement up the neck, he crafts some remarkable bass lines here, and his frequent solos (yes, bass solos!) are always welcome. While Sheehan has done his share of progressive and fusion projects, he’s firmly entrenched in the rock world here—he’s probably the most aggressive and prominent bass presence in a rock band since The Who’s John Entwistle left the planet.

Portnoy is the perfect drummer for this project. His playing is more restrained than it is on his progressive rock projects such as Transatlanic and his work with Neal Morse—he often hangs back, focusing more on holding down the rock rhythms than going for flashing timing. But he is but spot-on with his typical unbelievable fills and uncanny timing. His approach is perfect for this solid chunk of rock from this trio of incredible potential that can only get better in projects to come.

Fortunately, these Dogs not only have chemistry as a band, but also as songwriters. There’s nice variety to the music—tracks such as “Damaged” and “Dying” pull back the aggressiveness a bit and show a more moody, melodic side. “Regret” wraps up the CD with a churchy, keyboard-driven feel. But yeah, these guys rock, and they’ve got chops to go with the power they’re putting out throughout this excellent debut.

The Winery Dogs was cut live in the studio, and it sounds it. There’s a rawness and energy here that would’ve been diluted by too much production and studio trickery. They set up and let it wail, and the result is the freshest, most vital rock album I’ve heard since the days when Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple ruled the airwaves.

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  • Scott B.

    Nice review. Pretty much spot on.

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  • erik b

    I love how this band is catching on!! I’ve followed Richie’s career since the late 80’s/ early 90’s when he was on Shrapnel records beginning at the age of 19….and you needed to be VERY musically proficient to have been on Shrapnel. But for the last 20 years/ 15 albums or so ( he has about 18 solo studio albums) he’s been doing this same blues, rock, jazz, r/b soul mix. Winery Dogs, too me, is a continuation of that…with one hell of a rhythm section.