Smith / Kotzen - Smith / Kotzen
Blues Based Rock
9 songs (47:14)
Release year: 0
Reviewed by Ben
Surprise of the month

This here little collab between guitarists Adrian Smith and Richi Kotzen is quietly making some waves with rock aficionados. Smith / Kotzen, the album, is straight forward blues based modern rock. I hesitate to call this pure blues because this doesn't really have much to do with say Freddie King or Robert Johnson. This is definitely much more in line with something that the modern blues guys do. Also, this is not "blooze" rock either. By that I mean this isn't some weirdly unauthentic album played by rich guys on expensive guitars replete with incessant noodling. Both Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen are lifetime players and they both have decidedly large blues influences but fail to bore the listener with pentatonic scale wankery. Vocally, both men share the mic so to speak, and they do so fairly evenly. Adrian has always done backing vocals in Iron Maiden and even had some lead vocals on some b-sides (Reach Out) as well as his other solo band, A.S.A.P.. He has a solid British blues boy type of soulful snarl, with some pretty cool howls and vocalizations. Richie's vocal timbre is much more in line with Chris Cornell and he is superb. There's not one song where both guys don't sing, so this is pretty well organized without falling into the trap of making listeners "choose" a singer / guitarist's side.

The guitars definitely need to be mentioned here. When someone hears the term "guitar player's" album, they tend to think of lots of flashy solos and rampant technique demonstrations. However, on the Smith / Kotzen album the emphasis here is definitely on songs. While certain passages of certain songs do contain somewhat lengthy instrumental sections and there's plenty of back and forth soloing, there's no feeling of oppressive note wanking. Also, I should point out that there really isn't that much in the way of "metal" here. Perhaps the intro and the start of the solo in Running is as close as we'll get. Another super cool thing for guitar nerds to do is guess who is playing what solo based on their tone and technique. Here's some pointers: Adrian generally plays his HSS Jackson S-style or his 70's deluxe Les Paul with the humbucker in the bridge and the mini humbucker in the neck. I believe the Les Paul is what he used alot in Maiden's classic days. Richie plays Teles, Strats, and he also doesn't use a pick. While Richie has a sig Tele with a single coil sized hot rails humbucker, I feel like he mainly uses Strats on this record.

I'll be straight up here: If you like the first few tracks, you'll like the rest of the record. With the exception of the too ballad-esque I Wanna Stay, every track is a solid hitter. There were some videos made for the first three tracks here and they are pretty indicative of what the brunt of the album is. Taking My Chances is the opener that sets the stage. Something that should be noted here is that Richie plays the drums for about half the album. Nicko McBrain guests on one track, Solar Fire. Now, how can I word this correctly? The drums definitely sound competent and played by a human being. However, with this being bluesy rock, they are a very simple backbeat delivery system more than anything else. There are no fancy fills, double bass runs, or snare rolls or anything like that. Despite this, there is still a very urgent sense of energy throughout. Anyways, Taking My Chances introduces the sounds that permeate this album. I dunno if funk is the right word, but they definitely have some funkadelic blues comping here. There's also plenty of cool lick trading between Adrian and Richie and they establish their cool vocal dynamic with trading verses and a huge chorus that has both singers all over it. Running is my personal favorite off the album and it's really surprising this was "only" a lyric video. To me, this is by far the most accessible song without sounding too commercial. While this is the only song that might maybe sort of be confused for a modern metal number, those thoughts are banished when lyrics about "time keeps rolling like a river..." come spilling out. By the time the chorus rolls around I'm held captive by those ringing chords, steady bass thumping, and Richie's wild singing over all of it. Adrian's first guitar solo is the only one on the album that can be traced back to his heavy metal roots. Seriously, it sounds like something from Somewhere In Time or Seventh Son but with decidedly less eighties production techniques. Scars and You Don't Me I guess would be considered the "epics" of the album since the former is about six and a half minutes and the former is over seven. Both are similar in that they are pounding, slowish tracks that have very dramatic moments in each of them. I almost hate to say it but man, Richie practically steals the show with his vocal performance. It feels like a cop out to go back to the Chris Cornell comparisons but DAMN! take a listen to him belting out the chorus in either Scars or You Don't Know Me. Some People is a swanky, smoky club type of song that has Adrian singing really close to the mic all sultry like. The beat slithers around and brings to mind images of old speakeasies and people sipping on bourbon and scotch. There's a really cool solo here that I think Richie plays that has an effect on it that makes it almost sound like a mouth harp (harmonica for the uninitiated).

I am really most definitely surprised by how much I have enjoyed this Smith / Kotzen collaboration. I should point out that even just sonically, this is a great example of how I like records to sound. Even though the drums are nothing fancy, they are played by a real person and the snare isn't some shitty sample from EZ Drummer. There's a fullness and roundness to the bass (btw both Richie and Adrian alternate playing bass) that doesn't happen when it's pounding out eighth note roots. And the vocals, oh man do they sound just right. Maybe Richie's been singing this way for a long time, but it's new to me and blast to hear. This being a blues record it would have been pretty shameful to utilize overcompensating production techniques. While this might be a "try before you buy", if this style clicks with you, it will click hard. I seriously had little to no expectations for this going in and I am very very enthralled.

Killing Songs :
Running, Some People, Solar Fire, Scars, Taking My Chances, You Don't Know Me
Ben quoted 80 / 100
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