4 January 2014

The Winery Dogs - The Winery Dogs

Another supergroup for the ages and another one with Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theatre), and this time he has with him Billy Sheehan (from Mr Big) and Richie Kotzen (ex Mr Big and Poison).  It is a strange group in some ways, especially since there were some issues between Kotzen and Sheehan from their days together in Mr Big.  Obviously that has been sorted in some ways as this album exists, I was recommended to listen to them by one of my friends who is a big on AOR music.  Now I have not heard anything of these guys until two days ago, so I am literally going in blind.  I have a fair idea how this will turn but let's see how the album progresses.

Opening with "Elevate" which instantly brings to mind a mixture of Mr Big, Poison and Cream; this is exactly what I was expecting from these mistrials three.  The song has a guitar solo, a bass solo and Mr Portnoy is always on a drum solo (this is not a bad thing - I will go on record as to say he is the best living drummer at the moment).  It is a positive and bouncing opening, which is followed with the slower and more straight up rock moment of "Desire".  It is you basic rock song which is an ode to the name of lust, been played in a million different ways, but it is very pleasant all the same and played at the high level you would expect from the people involved.  Come on its heels is "We Are One" which again is a very straight forward blues rock song that you know has more notes than the whole of the Nirvana back catalogue.  Whilst singing the blues should not sound so much fun and Kotzen's voice is in fine form I have to admit.

"I'm No Angel" is the fourth track here is the first real ballad and I was expecting one much earlier so I am pleasantly surprised they have waiting this long.  I am also glad to report that it is a fantastic exercise in the craft of the hard rock blues song.  Lyrically it is the same old story of a man who has done wrong, a soaring solo and the band is on fire.  I forgot how much fun a sad song could be when played by people who know what they are doing.  Then the fun comes back with "The Other Side", it is just your average foot to the floor stomp and it is not possible to listen to this without a silly smile on your face; it does get slightly self indulgent towards the end yet it is also not so surprising, but for the main part "The Other Side" is fun.  Then you have the bass plucking opening that is another ballad moment with "You Saved Me"; this is more of an exercise of how to make the bass guitar the main focus of song, a slight basic solo, the drumming kept to a professional backdrop and the lyrics are really good as well; a quality ballad is delivered again.

"Not Hopeless" is romping through the world with another dose of boogie that will sound great in a club, the solos towards the end do get back to the technical exercise that could be viewed as playing for themselves - yet sometimes I think that is what the point of a band should sometimes play for themselves as well as the audience.  It is a good moment and better than some of the other songs I have heard from other bands.  Afterwards we come into "One More Time" which is another blues lesson for those unschooled in the blues.  It is an ok song, but whiffs of filler for this album so far.  You cannot fault the playing ability, but it just sort of drifts on by without leaving that much of an impression for me.  "Damaged" is back in the ballad territory, and to be honest whilst it is the weakest one of the album, it is still better than the last few tracks.  I would not want an album of ballad-esque numbers from The Winery Dog as you need diversity, but these guys are at their best in their slower moments.

"Six Feet Deeper" is in the flamboyant section of the band's arsenal of songs, it has a simple mission which is to make you jump around and to enjoy the night; until you listen to the lyrics and it is all about someone being in a tiny bit of trouble, but trouble has rarely sounded so good. "Time Machine" is all about the blues end of the spectrum for the band, in comes dangerously close to being by the numbers yet it manages to steer clear of it, mainly due to the drum solo in the middle; that is right, a drum solo saves a song - never let it be said that Portnoy is not a clever chap and Kotzen's shredding solo at the end is amazing as well.  As we approach the end of the album, "The Dying" is back in the ballad end of the album with a much more harder feel than what has went before.  With a very retrospective feeling, this song is placed perfectly for what is rock/blues album 101 - place a slower number as your second last song on the album.  It is another one of those moments where each member shines without having to do far too much to make the other members seem unimportant. But the band then take a slight detour from rock/blues album 101 - the last track is even slower, my regret full and a full on arms in the air story of heartbreak.  I question where it is in the album but I cannot question the song itself.  Piano led and full of the heart break that this band seems to have in plenty, and bring the album to a soaring solo at the end.

This album is extremely well played, not one member of the band outshines the other until they have their respective solos, but Messrs Sheehan, Kotzen and Portnoy all play the supporting roles when needed beautifully.  Whilst it is by no means an original piece of work (and what could be in this day and age), it is certainly an enjoyable album and with only one or maybe two pieces of filler you have to say a well produced album as well.  If you a fan of AOR and the more classic end of rock, this will be an album you will need to hear; actually if you have any interest in rock what so ever I would say check it out.  It is played to such a professional standard as you would expect from the players, a nice surprise in many ways.

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track - We Are One

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the official website for The Winery Dog here

You can listen to the album on Deezer here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

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