The Winery Dogs have played more than 100 shows together now, touring in support of their first album. As a more cohesive unit, there should be development in both the band’s playing and the songs that they write together. Even bassist Billy Sheehan (also of Mr. Big) said, “we definitely took chances… you have to do that – otherwise, you don’t grow.” So I was a little surprised that the lead single “Oblivion”, the first song on their new release Hot Streak, opens up like it came from their first album (in fact they wrote it during a break in their last tour). But from there very little is the same as it was before – these are very different Dogs.
Richie Kotzen’s melodic vocals, which sometimes didn’t go with the music on their debut, sound right at home here, starting with the first song. After a technically difficult and complicated opening riff, “Oblivion” levels out into a melodic hard rock song. It’s both very listenable and challenging at the same time and is a capsule for the rest of the album. If “Oblivion” had been put on the first album instead, it would already have been one of their best songs. But here it’s a nice reminder of their abilities, and a head fake as you listen deeper into the album.
“Captain Love”, the second song on the album, couldn’t be any different. It’s a straight-ahead rock ‘n roll song with a heavy riff and a simple drum part (which is definitely NOT what Mike Portnoy, who just released an album with Metal Allegiance, is known for). In fact, this could be a KISS song – it’s even got a KISS title. This is going to sound HUGE live! From there they get out the funk. “Hot Streak” has a funky groove all the way through, and the Dogs play it up. This is the first opportunity for Sheehan to really shine on the bass since Kotzen’s guitar leaves a lot of space for him. Another very different song – we’re three songs in and have already heard three different styles.
The 70’s sound continues with the intro and verse to “How Long”, although it then breaks into a modern chorus. Another solid bass line and a rolling drum beat by Portnoy lead to a spacey solo. The melodic tunes continue with “Empire”, the electronic beginning of which reminds me of a 70’s cop show theme song, but settles into another rolling bass line with lots of room in between riffs for Kotzen’s voice to take center stage. Kotzen rounds the song out with a tricky solo before all three talented musicians end the song on a high note.
Midway through the album, we get the only true ballad, “Fire”. It opens with an acoustic guitar and piano and comes across as a modern Eagles song with some Spanish guitar influence. “Ghost Town”, which follows, is another straightforward rocker with changing guitar sounds from the intro into the verse, a 70’s era bridge, and the ethereal-sounding solo. Different guitars were used in different parts of the song to create this effect – it should be interesting to watch live.
The Dogs get more modern on “The Bridge”. The straight drum beat intro into a heavy riff has a modern Rush sound to it. It’s a catchy song, in fact, one of several that you might find yourself humming later on, which I think shows their progress in songwriting as a band. The scrappy guitar solo in the middle with ridiculously fast picking evolves into a heavier, noisier sound. The next song carries a nice bass line, although it’s a little quiet for a song named “War Machine”. Very slick production on the guitars leads to an acoustic breakdown before the melodic solo, a contrast to the previous song. “Spiral” continues the melodic sound with what sounds like a smooth bass intro into a soft vocal opening – echoes of U2. It turns out that’s no bass, though. Kotzen taped down a bunch of piano keys to make a giant chord then opened the lid on the piano and started plucking the strings with his pick. Add to that Sheehan’s haunting bass line, and you get one moody song.
After a couple of softer songs, “Devil You Know” picks up the pace with solid drums, a Van Halen-esque opening, and a really catchy chorus. The first half of the guitar solo sounds unbelievably difficult with time changes and notes up and down the scale and then finishes off with a more traditional second half. Yep – that’s just the solo. This one might be my favorite. And it leads into the bluesy and soulful “Think it Over”, and yet another very catchy chorus. The keyboards return, and this is the only song without a true guitar solo. The long outro gives the Dogs a chance to improvise and Portnoy throws in some nice fills.
The final track on the US version of the CD, “The Lamb”, starts quietly with the sound of rain, and breaks into a difficult time signature bass line and complementary vocals. Quickly the chorus gets back to a straighter rock ‘n roll sound – again underlining how much easier it is to listen to this album than their debut. The extended solo begins with keyboards, moves to Sheehan for some bass and finally Kotzen with a long, fast guitar attack. As the song ends with a rainy fade out, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the end. For Japan, though, they break out the acoustic guitar and piano for the classy “Solid Ground” that’s something of a cross between Billy Joel and The Who unplugged
The Winery Dogs are no doubt established and talented players, but like every all-star team, they needed some time to come together. Based on the sound of Hot Streak, there are a lot of different musical style influences among the three, and they did a much better job incorporating them into accessible, mostly melodic tunes. Make no mistake, they break out the hard rock and the complicated time changes often, but here it’s as a tool to provide variety, and not just for the sake of playing difficult music. The Dogs are already on the road in the US and will visit Europe, South America, Mexico and Japan next year – a true world tour. These songs will definitely be crowd-pleasers, and when they mix in the more challenging songs from their debut, both the casual fan and the (Decibel) Geek will be satisfied!
- Captain Love
- Hot Streak
- How Long
- Ghost Town
- The Bridge
- War Machine
- Devil You Know
- Think It Over
- The Lamb
- Solid Ground (Japan Bonus Track)
Both of the Winery Dogs releases can be bought through the Amazon link on the Decibel Geek home page