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The Winery Dogs - Hot Streak (Album Review)

Wednesday, 14 October 2015 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Jamel Toppin

If releasing two albums of exhilarating hard rock qualifies as a hot streak, then the Winery Dogs are now a rolling ball of fire and flame. It's a confident title but the trio do it justice on their second album, spreading their colourful wings without sacrificing the cocktail of virtuoso chops and hooks that ignited their widely-lauded debut. For young rock bands looking to reinvigorate an old form - this is how you do it.

What you get from Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan and Richie Kotzen is, first and foremost, great melodic songs built on a bedrock of power-packed, endlessly inventive grooves. That they're fleshed out by mind-bending bursts of instrumental flair, touches of jazz, funk and a shedload of soul adds fresh dynamism to effectively mask familiar structural conventions. The result is an adrenalin shot into the heart of an ageing genre.

Oblivion picks up where the debut left off, with tasty harmonies, rhythmic muscle and a whirlwind of musical interplay and old-school shredding. Captain Love, meanwhile, is like AC/DC on the prowl, boasting a testosterone-soaked riff and swaggering hook.

The virtuosity is balanced by tasteful discretion and never overwhelms thanks to Kotzen's empathetic vocals and some top drawer songwriting.

From raising goosebumps with his croon on Philly soul swooner Think It Over and flamenco-flavoured weepy Fire to switching between a haunted whisper and sky scraping wail on the imperious Ghost Town, his soulful delivery grounds the music, imbuing it with an emotional sincerity that makes every instrumental flourish feel organic.

Kotzen's hook-writing smarts also add an accessible edge, with How Long building from a rumble-in-the-jungle rhythmic pummelling to a knock out chorus. Devil You Know – replete with Van Halen riffing – is liable to stick in your head until the end of days and War Machine is a thunderous mixture of belligerence and pathos as it pummels and pleads from one breathless beat to the next.

Unsurprisingly for a posse of musicians with so many ideas, they've stretched themselves further this time out. Spiral begins with a tripped-out arpeggiated bass lick and peaks with a strutting staccato chorus, while The Lamb and Empire are multi-faceted epics.  

Patience is required with 'Hot Streak', though, as it's neither as immediate nor flawless as their debut. The title track's funked up R&B fails to cohere into a satisfying whole, The Bridge has a whiff of filler and many of the songs take time to work their magic. But these tunes are mostly built to last and will creep under your skin with a little perseverance.

The nights are growing darker and the temperature is starting to plunge, which means winter and the inevitable end of year music lists are almost upon us. With 'Hot Streak', the Winery Dogs haven't just thrown their hat in the ring in for the best rock album of 2015, they've set up camp and dared their rivals to set foot on their territory.

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