A lot of people, me included, have been waiting to hear this album since the band was first announced. I mean, come on. Billy Sheehan, Mike Portnoy, and Richie Kotzen? On paper it sounds like a winner. The problem with these types of bands made up of established, well-respected, and oft-worshipped musicians is that there is the potential for overplaying mixed with inflated egos to the point that two things happen:
1. The album yields a few good songs, nothing more.
2. The band implodes either during, or right after the support tour.
Well, I am very happy to report that so far this is NOT the case with The Winery Dogs. Obviously, everyone still gets a chance to shine, but they do it within the confines of well-constructed rock songs, without sounding like a lot of hot air. THIS, my friends, is a rock band, make no mistake about it. But it is a rock band with balls and substance, and not some self-indulgent mess.
“Elevate” starts things off with all three members in high gear, Richie wailing away both vocally and on the guitar, Billy making the bass sound like it’s from another planet, and Mike laying down the groove without playing 20,000 beats a minute. Billy leads the band on a nice run at the tail end of the song, and it sounds like they’ve been together a long time. “Desire” is another groove-laden number that shows just how comfortable these guys are with each other. Some of the best rock songs are about a lady, and this one is no exception.
Everyone is locked in the pocket for “We Are One”, an anthem of unity and self-empowerment that could turn into a great live jam, with solos all around, and crowds going haywire, both for the message, and the music. “I’m No Angel” is my personal favorite. It’s a slow, smoldering tune, Richie sings it with conviction, and his guitar work is flawless here. Easily one of the best songs of 2013. The whole band is on fire for “The Other Side’, particularly for the last two minutes. No vocals, just three guys making some killer music.
“You Saved Me” is my other favorite on this record. Billy starts it off with a syncopated bass line, and the other guys come in quietly before building up to the chorus, and all the pieces just fall into place. Definitely another one that had me hitting the repeat button. “Not Helpless” and “Six Feet Deeper” both hit the straight-ahead made for driving mark before “One More Time” brings us into what I like to call “summer territory”. It’s the kind of song you have goin’ on the back deck, friends over, a cooler full of beer, and shots at the ready.
The guys’ classic rock influences really show up on “Damaged”, which would be a nice companion piece to The Eagles “I Can’t Tell You Why”. Richie’s vocals emit the same kind of longing that Timothy B. Schmidt’s did all those years ago, and it works really well.
Since I have the Japanese release, I’m not sure if “Criminal” will be on the U.S. version. It really should, though. There’s a level of familiarity on this one that really comes through, and it’s another high point.
The album closes with a pair of slow, jazzy, bluesy numbers, “The Dying”, and “Regret”. What I like most about these is how simple they are. The band knows when to turn up, and when to drop out, and this combination further cements the record as one to be played outdoors on a nice night. This has been one of the most highly anticipated albums of the summer, and trust me, it will not disappoint. Not for a second.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “I’m No Angel”, “You Saved Me”, “Elevate”, “Damaged” “Criminal”, “Desire”