The big names will bring inquiring ears to the band; the music will fill said ears with confections of all sorts of rock ‘n’ soul delights. Musicians and lay people alike will enjoy the debut album from The Winery Dogs. The group, comprised of ex-Dream Theater/Adrenaline Mob drummer Mike Portnoy, Mr. Big bassist Billy Sheehan, and guitarist Richie Kotzen, will undoubtedly be tagged as another Musicians Institute-themed shred machine, the kind of band the music snobs love to brag about “discovering” amid a purposefully overheard conversation at Guitar Center. But this trio swings with the dynamic front of a hungry garage band, anxious to prove their mettle. The Winery Dogs grit their chops with knife-gouged soul and an exciting sense of song development.
While all three players are certifiable Olympian athletes at their instruments, with notable careers of their own, this is arguably Kotzen’s album. Sheehan’s warbling bass tone is recognizable anywhere, and Portnoy’s rhythms are effortlessly complex, but the every song bears the hallmark of Kotzen’s funky, Hendrix-meets-Memphis-blues style. Tracks like “Elevate” slam with a swirling chaos of hard rock intensity, very close to any of Kotzen’s solo albums, and not coincidentally, the two Mr. Big albums Kotzen was a part of with Sheehan from 1999-2002. “One More Time” is cut from a wandering bluesman’s sense of perpetual yearning; “Time forgives, and so do I,” sings Kotzen over some of the most fluid interpretation of a would-be metal mélange of The Temptations with Bad Company.
There is, of course, maximum instrumental octane to burn. Cuts like “Six Feet Deeper” feature Kotzen’s trademark legato speed runs, and Sheehan and Portnoy’s impeccable timing-perforated bravado. Bringing it all back home, though, are tracks like “You Saved Me,” the soft serenade of the song’s tender reflection ripe for lighters held high when played live. This is not your average slapped together, billion notes-per-minute side project – The Winery Dogs feel like a band.
Anchored by the power of bare-knuckled soul, with the well-publicized instrumental virtuosity taking a back seat, The Winery Dogs are a welcome escape from the hollow promise of the common supergroup cash grab.
The Winery Dogs ‘The Winery Dogs’ Rating: W W W W
-Mark Uricheck, Weekender Correspondent