Three Dog Music
Review by Tom Mead
The Winery Dogs are that rare thing: a “supergroup” whose music lives up to, if not surpasses, the expectations generated by its members’ musical pasts. Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr Big, Solo), Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth, Steve Vai, Mr Big) and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Avenged Sevenfold, Transatlantic, Adrenaline Mob) demonstrated on their self-titled debut album, released in 2013, that they could work well together to write songs that, while technically challenging, were ultimately well-structured, powerful and engaging. Their second album Hot Streak picks up where the first one left off, indicating that The Winery Dogs have found a formula that works and are running with it.
On Hot Streak, a wide range of influences can be felt and heard throughout. If I was pushed to neatly summarise The Winery Dogs for the uninitiated, I’d describe them as an exuberant and technical blend of Led Zeppelin and ‘70s-era Rush, with Chris Cornell and David Coverdale’s lovechild on vocals (now there’s an image…) This is not the kind of band though that simply wears its influences shamelessly on its sleeve to give their listeners a mere nostalgia trip. Kotzen, Sheehan and Portnoy are all prolific musicians and songwriters and have over their respective careers learnt to give their work a great deal of originality and innovation; Hot Streak points towards the future as much as it nods to the past.
The album opens with single Oblivion, which bursts into life with virtuoso blasts from all three members followed by a driving double-bass drum beat; you’d be forgiven for thinking you were listening to Portnoy’s old band, Dream Theater. Nonetheless, the progressive elements, while evident throughout the album, are minimal. Writing a set of 10-minute jams would be the easiest thing in the world for these three gentlemen, but the success of the music on show here is greatly due to their ability to use their technical ability constructively in order to fit the demands of each song in an economical way. The upbeat mood, continued by track 2 Captain Love, is abruptly interrupted however by the album’s title song at track 3. Hot Streak is a mid-tempo 5 minute jazz fusion-esque piece with a weak chorus and uninspired solos; it disrupts the flow of the album entirely, and is ultimately what prevents this very good album from being a great album (they might have thought of a better title without it too…)
Thankfully, that really is the only low point amongst the album’s 65 minutes. The pace picks up again at track 4 with How Long, and the following 10 tracks are various shades of rock brilliance. On the lush ballad Fire, Richie Kotzen puts legions of hipster “singer-songwriters” to shame with his Spanish-style acoustic guitar playing, whereas the quirky Spiral recalls Led Zeppelin’s eerie psychedelic number No Quarter albeit with a quasi-disco beat; trust me, it works! It is clear throughout Hot Streak that this is not the work of some young upstarts. Not that Kotzen, Sheehan and Portnoy sound old and tired; on the contrary, they play with a level of energy that puts many 20-something musicians to shame. Rather, it’s clear from the diverse sounds on display that they are consummate professionals, utilising their technical mastery to great effect throughout; after all, the three men have close to 100 years recording experience between them! From the explosive slide guitar blues of Empire to the organ-led power ballad Think it Over, The Winery Dogs offer up treats to suit all palates. My personal highlight is Ghost Town; imagine Deep Purple covering Don Henley’s Boys of Summer with a funky midsection, and you’re nearly there…
Mike Portnoy said in a recent interview that The Winery Dogs, amongst his various projects, is his main priority. Richie Kotzen and Billy Sheehan have their share of other projects too, but it is clear from the energy, enthusiasm and creativity shown on Hot Streak (the title track notwithstanding) that The Winery Dogs is not just another short-lived vanity project. These dogs won’t be put to sleep any time soon.
Verdict: 8/10 (9/10 if you skip the title track…)