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The Winery Dogs - The Winery Dogs (Album Review)

Friday, 06 September 2013 Written by Simon Ramsay

When virtuoso musicians record together, the outcome is often a technically decadent, self-indulgent snooze fest. Not so in the case of the marvellously named Winery Dogs, a supergroup who emphasise high calibre songwriting over showboating.

On their self-titled bow they gleefully belt out commercially charged, imaginatively orchestrated rock music to produce one of the strongest debuts of recent years.

Featuring singer/guitarist Richie Kotzen alongside the inimitable bass of Billy Sheehan and ex Dream Theater drumming dynamo Mike Portnoy, the Winery Dogs are unsurprisingly similar to Mr Big, Kotzen and Sheehan's former band. Their fans will love songs like Elevate and Six Feet Deeper as they feature the same blend of twirling riffs, flourishes and radio-friendly melodies.

Kotzen's followers will be equally enraptured as the Winery Dogs are cut from the same multi-faceted cloth as his solo output. With strains of jazz, soul and funk adding flesh to the hard rock skeleton, it's the same winning combination he's produced for years. The only difference – and a significant one - is that he's backed by two exceptional musicians, rather than recording all the parts himself.

Both Desire and Regret are typical of his work. The former prods with a staccato riff before riding a funky backbeat of skipping cymbals, rolling grooves and squelching licks towards a towering chorus, while the latter's candlelight balladry weeps with soulful introspection as it builds to a spiritual climax buoyed by a swaying gospel choir.

His guitar style, meanwhile, is idiosyncratic, blending rock, blues and jazz fusion with dizzying legato runs and sweep picking. Each solo feels fresh and captivating, grabbing the attention without overshadowing the songs. Kotzen also sings like an angel with a devil on his shoulder. Sounding like a more soulful Chris Cornell, he's able to eviscerate with full-throated roars one minute and croon with husky empathy the next.

Driven by the symphonic bass of Sheehan and compelling drumming of Portnoy, the album's rhythmic kick is as inventive and propulsive as you'd expect. On The Other Side, Portnoy hits the gas like Sebastian Vettel in a hurry, Sheehan's's pogoing bass joins the charge and Kotzen spins a superbly melodic guitar and vocal line over the top. Not Hopeless boasts a full-blooded cocktail of classically inspired bass soloing and You Saved Me is given an ethereal ambience courtesy of gently percussive cymbals.

It's a cliché to use the word chemistry when a band sound this good, but the Winery Dogs purr with it. What makes them special is the way they inject their hard rock with dynamic textures, elevating the material beyond generic conventions. What could be bog standard passages are spiced up with dazzling fills that ooze pizazz without detracting from the momentum of the tunes.

Supergroups are often an excuse for adult musicians to live out their boyhood fantasies. Black Country Communion wanted to be Deep Purple, while Dave Grohl and Josh Homme even incorporated a member of Led Zeppelin in Them Crooked Vultures. The Winery Dogs aren't an homage, but a current proposition that sit comfortably in 2013. You can hear influences from rock's golden years, but then Time Machine arrives with a demonic riff whose bludgeoning harmonic sensibilities scream Alice In Chains.

The most pleasing element of this album is how it gets better with each listen. Every spin reveals something new, be it a snazzy instrumental phrase, lovely harmony or perspicacious lyric. In that respect it's like a prog release, imbued with a depth of content few rock albums can match.


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