Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
The pairing of Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen was always destined to happen. It almost sounds like the script of a Hollywood romcom: two people, both from very similar worlds but never having crossed paths before, bump into each other through a chance meeting with a friend in a bar, start having a coffee and the next thing that happens is that they are making beautiful music together.
We can skip all the romance and the moment where they part, only to have a tearful reconciliation near the end of the story. After all, this is real life. Removing the fiction from the fact, what we’re left with is two of the most talented musicians on the scene coming together on an album that raises more than a little hell.
Dipping into their roots and passions, this self-titled debut from the pairing is a classy and hugely impressive slab of classic hard rock, tinged with blues and spirit.
As expected from two guitarists of such calibre, the fretwork is dazzling, the pair weaving their magic in an almost psychic weft that sees the two complement each other rather than compete. The same is true with the vocals, such is their complementary styles that it can be almost seamless where one ends and the other starts.
That isn’t to say that the two don’t have their own identity, as they certainly do, but it’s just a case that this was a marriage of skills made in musical heaven, Smith and Kotzen finding the perfect foils in each other.
There can be no doubt that both brought their A game to the project and the sense of joy and passion bubbles, barely controlled, just under the surface of the nine tracks that made it to the cut.
From the propulsive and gritty opening number ‘Taking My Chances’ to the last fading note of ‘’Til Tomorrow’ any fan of quicksilver fretwork is going to be instantly won over as both men attack and caress their guitars with a fervent desire to make every note count.
There is a swagger here, the confidence of years at the top of your game instilling both men with a surety of their own worth and identity and this translates to some phenomenal performances.
It’s tracks like ‘Running’ that perfectly illustrates this, a huge blues bruiser with cascading solos and a supremely catchy chorus, the song is imbued with soul and vocal performances that brings to mind Glenn Hughes at his best.
Throughout, the song is the key and nothing is sacrificed to the alter of showmanship, as mightily impressive the performances are, it’s the songwriting that marks this out as an album that will be played many times to come.
From the epic desert feel of ‘Scars’ through to the funky ‘Some People’, each track is put together with a craftsman’s precision, perfectly formed but never divorced from the true feel that comes from its creators.
Sparkling with 70’s bluesy hard rock with touches of West Coast cool that sounds like a mash up of Mountain and the Eagles, ‘Glory Road’ exhilarates and ‘Solar Fire’ is as big and bright as its title, Smith’s Maiden compatriot Nicko McBrain bringing a swing and mighty drive to proceedings.
There’s never a hint of either Smith or Kotzen letting up the pace or quality and each track hits its own highs but sees some added magic to the monstrously good ‘You Don’t Know Me’ with its stellar vocals and musicianship wrapped around a titanic song and the big, beautiful and heartfelt ‘I Wanna Say’.
This brace of tracks shows exactly what both men are capable of, leaving a very tangible desire that this won’t be the sole outing of the two musicians.
When the pairing of these men was hinted at there was quite a buzz and expectation in the air, the intriguing prospect of something very interesting happening here. Very happily, ‘Smith / Kotzen’ more than matches that expectation and in fact far exceeds anything we could have hoped or dreamt of.
Bringing fire and ice, Smith and Kotzen are the perfect combination.
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Follow Adrian and Richie: Adrian Smith: Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/misteradria…
Richie Kotzen: Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/richie_kotzen