The Winery Dogs, The Winery Dogs
My initial interest in The Winery Dogs was due to Mike Portnoy’s involvement. Ever since I first heard him on Neal Morse’s post-Spock’s Beard solo albums, he’s become one of my favorite drummers, and I’ve been slowly trying to acquire his complete discography (an incredibly daunting task). I was well aware of Billy Sheehan’s reputation as a bass player, as well, but Richie Kotzen was a complete blank slate to me. I’d heard his name, but was unfamiliar with his work. Imagine my surprise when, upon my first listen (the band’s “Elevate” single on YouTube), it wasn’t Portnoy that blew me away, but Kotzen.
This is not to take anything away from Portnoy or Sheehan. Portnoy’s a monster on the drums, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad performance from him. Whether it’s the prog of Neal Morse or Transatlantic, the prog-metal of Dream Theater, the hard rock of Adrenaline Mob, or the pop/rock of Flying Colors, he slides effortlessly from genre to genre and always seems to know exactly what to bring to each song. This album is no exception.
Sheehan, as I’ve learned, is a “lead bass player.” To be honest, I had no idea what that meant until I listened to single I mentioned previously. I’m not that familiar with Mr. Big, but I’d always imagined them as being more of a pop/rock band. Continuing in the same vein as the single, Sheehan is a madman on the bass, sometimes mimicking the melodies from Kotzen’s guitar, sometimes being in lockstep with Portnoy’s drumming, and sometimes just doing his own bizarre thing. He never lets up. This might sound like it would be distracting, but it’s not. Like Portnoy, he doesn’t do anything that detracts from the song itself. Needless to say, based on his performance here, I may need to check out Mr. Big’s discography and see what I’ve been missing.
As for Kotzen, I had no idea what to expect. All mentions of him I’d come across in various articles or reviews referred to his guitar playing, but there he was in the “Elevate” video performing lead vocals, as well, sounding a little like Chris Cornell at times but sounding mostly like a guy with a great voice that is completely comfortable with his talents on vocals and guitar and doesn’t feel like he’s got anything to prove. Considering his bandmates here, that’s pretty amazing. It’s not cockiness but assuredness, and it brings a certain level of laid-back calm to the surface of these songs that have so much going on instrumentally. It sounds like these guys were born to make music together.
After obtaining a pre-release copy for purposes of this review, I’m pleased to say that the pre-order I placed after hearing “Elevate” stands. I’m giving these guys my money. This entire album is full of glorious goodness. There are a few ballads, some mid-tempo stuff, and several flat-out rockers. And they’re all brilliant. Although the songs sometimes sounds like a combination of ’70s hard rock and ’90s grunge, the overall sound is both modern and timeless.
In short, this is fantastic rock and roll. There’s nothing trendy, hipsterish, or pretentious on here, just three insanely talented guys that love rock music. A lot of bands make the claim of getting back to the basics, but few of them do it as well as The Winery Dogs.