What do you get when you put together Richie Kotzen (Poison) on vocals and guitar, with Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big) on bass, and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) on drums? The answer of course is the new musical constellation The Winery Dogs. Powered by that kind of star-fusion, the band’s self-titled debut turns out to be a rich, complex, and exquisitely crafted release that blends hard rock, prog influences, blues, classic rock, and even throws in a bit of jazz and a shot of punk for good measure – sometimes all in the same tune. (On the band’s Facebook page there’s a mention of “blues-punk rhythms” which initially had me raising my eyebrows, but yeah, it’s there on “The Other Side” and it’s pretty darn glorious.)
All this musical richness makes it hard to pigeon-hole The Winery Dogs, and that is part of what makes this album so great – it’s the kind of music that makes me come back again and again to catch and savor every layer and nuance.
On the first track “Elevate” the band mixes up hard rock, a funky groove, and some smooth AOR vibes – Kotzen’s rugged and strong vocals go bluesy, his powerful and nimble guitar work meshing perfectly with the strong pull of Sheehan’s bass, and Portnoy’s masterful drums. On “Desire” they heat things up with some old-school hard-rocking riffs, and some seriously swinging bass lines – it’s a track with a lot of swagger and a seductively loose and jamming feel.
Other personal favorites include the edgy “The Other Side” with its beautifully wild and raucous ending; and the dark and heavy “Six Feet Deeper”. “Time Machine” stands out as well with its eastern swing, that riff that pulls you in, the smooth and deep bass – all of it driven by the mighty Portnoy drum-engine: it’s majestic, intricate, and grandiose in a way that few bands could pull off as successfully. The softer, almost glowing “The Dying” is another fave: it’s shot through with so much bluesy pain, and Kotzen’s gorgeous vocals are wrapped up in some truly inspired music.
The Winery Dogs show their mastery in every tune here. It’s there in the massive, heavy bass rhythm on the dreamy and spacy “We Are One”; in the roughed-up soulfulness of “I’m No Angel”; the blues-flavored hard-rock funk jam of “Not Hopeless”; and the riffy groove of “One More Time”. It’s there too in the slower, softer tracks like “You Saved Me”, “Damaged”, and “Regret” with the band flexing their musical power even when the tunes have a lighter touch.
One of the most striking features of this album is how each band member’s skill and personality is allowed to shine through so strongly, resulting in a unique and often mesmerizing sound. I’m hoping this three-piece is in it for the long haul, because I want to hear a lot more from them in the future.
- Richie Kotzen: lead vocals, lead guitar
- Billy Sheehan: bass, vocals
- Mike Portnoy: drums, vocals
- We Are One
- I’m No Angel
- The Other Side
- You Saved Me
- Not Hopeless
- One More Time
- Six Feet Deeper
- Time Machine
- The Dying
(This review was originally published at Hard Rock Nights.)