Here’s an odd collaboration if there ever was one. Who in a million years would have thought that these two gentlemen would team up and make a record. Not me. When the news was out, I was stunned – and very interested in what they would come up with. Adrian Smith is known as one of there lead guitarists in Iron Maiden, of course and in my opinion the hit-maker in that band. That said, he released an album of poppier moments and AOR-fused rock numbers with his band A.S.A.P (Adrian Smith And Project) called Silver And Gold in 1989, one year before he left Iron Maiden, a very underrated album that more or less bombed commercially. Smith was the singer on that album and without sporting a huge range, he did show that he had a good voice. It needs to be known that without being a guitar-hero of any kind, Smith is a skilled guitarist with a whole lot of feel, melody and tone.
Richie Kotzen on the hand has been everywhere and done everything. At least it feels like that sometimes. Starting out as guitar shredder for Mike Varney’s Shrapnel label, he got the gig as CC DeVille’s replacement in Poison with whom he recorded and wrote the great Native Tongue in 1993 before getting the boot one year later. After that he joined Mr Big for a couple of albums and when that ended he began a journey as a solo artist again. Also a member of the brilliant The Winery Dogs with drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Billy Sheehan, Kotzen’s style of music goes back to 70’s based Classic Rock, organic and earthy. As a guitarist, the guy is nothing short of brilliant and that also goes for his skills as a singer. Put these two characters together and you have – on paper – one of the most exciting projects of 2021, at least in my book.
The album kicks off with the first taster and leading single ”Taking My Chances”, a gutsy and raunchy rocker with an enormous swing. Smith and Kotzen meets up in the most natural of ways although the tune sounds a lot like the stuff we can find on a Kotzen solo record. It’s a Blues-inspired Classic Rock track with a big 70’s touch, a stunning hook and a marvelously catchy chorus and the couple trades both licks and vocals and the dynamics between them marries like a charm. Second taster ”Running” is a faster tracked bouncer, rougher around the edges on a straight-ahead rhythm. It’s harder track than the opener, more in the Hard Rock vein even though it too brings on a bluesy feel. Again, the refrain is bang-on-target and it sticks without going air-play friendly. Just a damn good tune.
Another single, the slower, darker and crunchier ”Scars” comes along with a deep, fat sound with a bigger blues-edge and an atmospheric soundscape. The brooding ambience, earthy outlook and the slightly Sabbath-like gloom makes it a bit hard to see what it will do as a single but as a song, it’s a monster and the whole piece hits like a ton of bricks. Brilliant indeed. ”Some People” is a more straight ahead Classic Rock stomper that holds all elements of a Richie Kotzen solo track which marries fine with Smith’s heavier and hard-edged guitar sounds. Another cool contrast is between the almost levitating, flowing rhythms and the song’s grittier whole. This is some great stuff.
”Glory Road” is another cool blues-rock number which reminds me some of Glenn Hughes solo stuff albeit with Kotzen’s personal melodies. It’s a bit funky with a striking groove, a solid beat and some stellar guitar-work from the guys – and the chorus is nothing but a damn smash. Very good. With Kotzen a taking on all bass and drum duties – Tal Bergman drums on three songs – on this album, latest single ”Solar Fire” welcomes Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain as a guest. Faster in pace with a rougher outlook, the tune still holds a mighty groove and it’s cool to hear McBrain swing like this. It’s energetic, heavy and driven with a upbeat pulse – quite in-your-face. I bet this will kick some serious ass live. Great.
”You Don’t Know Me” is slower in pace yet heavy and beefy with a down to earth vibe. It’s a ballad but with thick and sturdy guitars and a bouncy and tough rhythm. The song goes back to the early 70’s, style-wise and it brings along lots of feel. As a moody and darkening slow burner, the chorus is surprisingly catchy and distinct. I love this. The bluesy balladry continues with ”I Wanna Stay”. It’s a powerful slow-burner with influences from mid 70’s Classic Rock, it’s moody and crunchy but it also comes with a pop-feel that brings it to the threshold of power-balladry, making the tune even create a hit-feel. Awesome.
The album closes with the heavy and pounding ”’Til Tomorrow”, an intense yet slightly held-back Classic Rock belter with an almost doom-laden outlook. It’s also very rhythmic with a funk-flirtatious bass-line and drum beat. The dual fret-work from Richie and Adrian are both gritty and rowdy but still very melodic and the song throws out hooks to the left and right making the song impossible to resist, very much due to the oh so memorable melody-arrangements which holds a palpable catchiness. Which in turn leads me to the chorus which is total bulls-eye. Thumbs up!
With only nine songs, I guess the guys were thinking ”quality over quantity”, something more artists should apply to their products. And quality we get – and then some! Because there really are no weak spots here at all. Smith and Kotzen might be very different as players but both of them has always had one foot in blues-rock/Classic Rock territory which makes this co-lab not as a big surprise as most of us thought when the news of this project hit. Fact is, they complete each other very well. As singers, Kotzen is the one with the broadest range and their voices are very different as well and all of this creates a palpable dynamic between them. With nine damn good songs and great performances from both, the 9/10 isn’t far away and this album will most likely take a spot as a top 10 record of 2021. I keep my fingers crossed for a sequel.