Monday 24 May 2021

Adrian Smith & Richie Kotzen - Smith/Kotzen (2021)

Country: UK/USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Mar 2021
Sites: Official Website | Wikipedia

Here's an interesting collaboration, between a pair of guitarists, one British and one American, who shouldn't need introduction but I'll introduce anyway, just in case. Adrian Smith is best known for his work for Iron Maiden, beginning with their second album, Killers, in 1981, but he's released a couple of solo albums and led an underrated soft rock project called A.S.A.P., which stood for Adrian Smith And Project. Richie Kotzen has been a solo artist since 1989, but he's also been a member of Poison and Mr. Big and he's fronted the Winery Dogs for the past decade.

What's most interesting about this collaboration is that these two guitarists are almost the only folk to actually play on it. They swap guitar licks and solos, of course, but they also handle the bass and the lead vocals between them. What's more, Kotzen takes care of the drums too, on five of the nine tracks on offer, with the other four falling to guests: Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden on one, and Tal Bergman of Rock Candy Funk Party on three. Smith and Kotzen also wrote the songs, produced the album and, I have no doubt, kept the kettle boiling throughout the recording process.

They work together very well and this is far from the guitarfest that you might expect, though surely the best parts are when the two just jam together. You Don't Know Me is far from the only example of this, but it's at least a minute longer than anything else here and two or three more than the average so there's much more opportunity for it. It runs a glorious seven minutes, and the six minute Scars is probably a close second on this front. When they find this mode, it's so absorbing that it's easy to just fall into it. However, this is a vocal album and that really changes the flavour of the piece.

It's difficult to describe the sound because, while the album is consistent enough to have an identity, it trawls in a lot of different influences, which come and go as these two musicians feel a need. Above anything, I'd call it a hard rock album, rooted in the blues but with elements from funk rock, southern rock, alternative rock and even grunge on the opener, Taking My Chances, though it's too upbeat for that genre. There's some Lynyrd Skynyrd in Glory Road and some ZZ Top in Solar Fire and some and it has to be said that, while I'm hearing those mostly in the guitar, both Smith and Kotzen are American tinged with their vocals. The earliest influence comes on the closer, 'Til Tomorrow, which builds with a Led Zeppelin vibe.

While these are individual songs with individual merits, I found that this plays best as an album to let flow around me. It's an immersive experience that sets a mood and grows it over three quarters of an hour, so calling out individual tracks somehow feels wrong. The catchiest song is probably Running, as it's a modern sounding hard rock song with a good hook, but it's the only obvious single to me, even if they went with Taking My Chances instead. Generally, these songs fit best in each other's company, as they're pieces in an album sized puzzle. Whether you see that as a good thing or not may shape your experience of Smith/Kotzen. Me, I dig it.

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