Veteran artists uniting to make something new has become more commonplace over the last year while everyone has been shut out of the world. A new album releasing Friday, however, was in the works before the world turned upside down.
Early in 2020, Iron Maiden guitarist (and fishing aficionado) Adrian Smith and Winery Dogs front-man Richie Kotzen concocted a plan to make an album together. During a break in their respective touring schedules, Kotzen and Smith got together on the Turks & Caicos Islands in February 2020 to create that album, titled simply Smith/Kotzen.
The two artists did nearly all of the work themselves, from writing and recording to swapping around guitars, vocals, and bass. Kotzen handles most of the drum work, with his touring partner and friend Tal Bergman behind the kit for three songs, and Smith's time-keeper from Iron Maiden, Nicko McBrain, dropping in for one track. Other than the drum parts on those four numbers, everything else you hear on the album comes from Smith and Kotzen. Kevin "Caveman" Shirley mixed what they produced and the whole album shines through with nothing but professionalism. With no disrespect intended to any artist that did so, this is not a play-by-Zoom effort.
The whole album sounds like it would have slotted in flawlessly to the hugely overlooked era of music that fits between rock and grunge, when there was a heavier, but more gruff sound. It's nearly impossible to talk about any new music without giving something else as a frame of reference, so I won't even try. The Smith/Kotzen album sounds like someone tossed a little Chris Cornell-led Soundgarden into a blender with Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughn's Texas blues-rock, and sprinkled in some Ronnie James Dio and Eric Clapton just for flavor. And the resulting dish is just incredible.
A couple of tracks have come out as singles, including the lead track "Taking My Chances" and "Scars." If you've listened to them, then you have a good appetizer for what the whole album sounds like. If you dig the sound of those tracks, this album will hit right at home for you.
Kotzen and Smith have unique sounds that blend seamlessly together. That applies to both vocals and guitar work. You can definitely tell the difference between them, but they sound perfect alongside one another.
Both artists are also amazing songwriters. On this album, you get examples of that like the chorus of "Glory Road:" "I found my dreams, on the Glory Road; but it's nothing like we've been told; All that glitters surely it ain't gold; Glory Road don't go on forever." Coming from two guys that have made their names on stages around the world, that message cuts deep.
"Solar Fire" is the rack that features Nicko McBrain behind the kit, but the drums don't overwhelm the song, they don't jump out and pull the listener out of the moment. This song, in particular, struck me as a sort of darker side of the coin from Jimmie Vaughn's Fabulous Thunderbirds.
If you're a fan of any of the artists mention here - those on this album or those that are being referenced - then you should love this album. It's just a good, deep-grooving blues-rock album from two guys that absolutely know their business.