By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy
One of the reasons why I enjoy listening to Richie Kotzen is his ability to adapt his blues rock with different styles like hard rock, R&B, pop, and heavy metal. Whether it was his solo albums or his work with the Winery Dogs, Poison, or Mr. Big, Kotzen is nothing but pure talent. During this pandemic, took it upon himself to do a new project with Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith. They are calling their project Smith/Kotzen. Taking advantage of the downtime this COVID-19 has put on the world, they have just completed their debut self-titled record, Smith/Kotzen. Not only do they duel it out on guitar, but they also share vocal duties and play the bass lines. For most of the songs, Kotzen handles the drum work. Respected in their field of rock, let us find what fruits this partnership bears.
Smith/Kotzen kick it off with “Taking My Chances.” Right out of the gate, the insane chemistry between the 2 famed guitarists is constructive. As the first single debuting back in December, I really enjoyed the unique vocal stylings, with Kotzen being smooth and Smith being aggressive. “Running” is a catchy, poppy number that is full of relish and vigor. The guitar work has a 70’s arena rock vibe that is mixed with 90s swagger that is similar to early day Lenny Kravitz. The bass lines are mighty as the drum work is balanced and robust. “Scars” sounds like it was bathed in the same pools that provided Bon Jovi with “Livin’ On a Prayer.” Very evocative as Smith/Kotzen trade off rugged vocals and blues led riffs. Between Kotzen’s Fender and Smith’s Les Paul, both men squeal righteous solos. 6+ minutes are well spent listening to this tune. “Some People” goes even deeper in the blues as they bring some soul to the table. The bass lines are funk infused as the finger tap dance on the chords. There is equal balance between the solos and vocal trade-offs. The last guitar fill that ends the song is perfect. We are halfway done as we listen in to “Glory Road.” It has a Soundgarden like feel as it reminds of “Fell on Black Days.” It tells their story about the days they spent on the road as young musicians with their respective groups. The solos are slow burning that are close to what B.B. King or Stevie Ray Vaughn would play.
“Solar Fire” is my favorite song off the album. It is very old-school hard rock with a thunderous beat similar to Deep Purple or Thin Lizzy. The guitar work is very agile and slick, and I honestly think it is one of their best work together. Smith’s Iron Maiden bandmate Nicko McBrain adds his powerhouse flare behind the kit, and he slays the beat. “You Don’t Know Me” is the longest song off Smith/Kotzen, clocking in at 7:15. This is a glorified jam song where Smith and Kotzen have fun exchanging dominant riffs. Kotzen’s longtime friend and touring partner Tal Bergman handles the drum work very nicely. “I Wanna Stay” is a sweet ballad where blues and pop merge as one. Both Kotzen and Smith sound marvelous together singing on the chorus. The last solo of the song is very powerful. Bergman is again on the drums, where he keeps things simple yet impactful. The album closes with “’Til Tomorrow.” Funk and blues come together to captivate the work Smith/Kotzen pulled off. The guitar solos are the trippiest off this album as the finger work they composed together is remarkable.
As far as duos go, I believe Smith/Kotzen make a fine pair. Every song offered something different from the other. The creative levels these two master musicians had were unbelievable. I always thought Kotzen had a great voice, but Smith sure surprised me with his. I wish Smith could have added some layers of heavy metal in his playing, but he does capture the spirit of the blues really well just like Kotzen does every day. I hope we get album from these two, and that it will be just as soulful as this one. To Smith/Kotzen, I salute you. Horns up!!!
Taking My Chances
You Don’t Know Me
I Wanna Stay
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