Back in 2012, three rock music heavyweights formed a band. The Winery Dogs are Drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Adrenaline Mob, Sons Of Apollo), Bass guitarist Billy Sheehan (Mr Big, Steve Vai, David Lee Roth) and guitarist / vocalist Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr Big). They have released two albums, first the self titled The Winery Dogs (2013) featuring the tracks Elevate, Damaged, We Are One, Time Machine and I'm No Angel, followed by the second album, Hot Streak (2015) featuring the tracks, Hot Streak, Devil You Know and album opener, Oblivion. Hot Streak cemented their fanbase and in the years following, they toured heavily and released a live album, Dog Years – Live in Santiago' (2017). By 2019 all three 'Dogs' were working on their other creative projects and were ready to put The Winery Dogs project on the back-burner. Then in 2020 the world was stuck down with the covid19 pandemic. During lockdown, Richie Kotzen and Iron Maiden guitarist, Adrian Smith got together and wrote, recorded and released an amazing self-titled album and EP together (Smith/Kotzen) followed by a tour in 2021, and I started to think The Winery Dogs were over, but then I saw Mike Portnoy had posted a few pictures on his instagram, one of him on a plane “flying to California'' then what The Winery Dogs fans had been waiting for, a picture of Mike, Billy and Richie all together at Richies property in SoCal. Finally, a new Winery Dogs album was in the works. On December 9th, 2022, we got our first listen, with the release of the first single and album opener, Xanadu, then on January 6th 2023 the second single, Mad World dropped. Both songs are classic Winery Dogs tunes. And this week, Friday February 3rd, which incidentally is Richie Kotzen's 53rd birthday, we will finally get to hear the new album in full!
The third Winery Dogs album is simply called – III
III opens with the aforementioned Xanadu. Right out of the gates, it's a punchy rock track with classic Winery Dogs style matching rolling lead guitar and bass lines, Kotzens husky, bluesy vocals are questioning life with tongue in cheek humour, “maybe I will, maybe I won't do, maybe I got too soft out here in Malibu, maybe I love, maybe I hate you, maybe you're too much of a bitch to live in Xanadu''. It's a strong opening track, Portnoy's drumming driving it relentlessly. The song ends with Portnoy tossing his drum sticks, which he says is not frustration but rather, him showing his satisfaction with the song. And rightfully so, it's a damn catchy song that winds its way through your brain and two hours later you're still humming it.
Next up is the current single, Mad World, a song that calls for human connection and societies' understanding. It starts out with a bluesy riff that has a '70s California blues-rock vibe then the chorus hits “we live in a mad mad world, get on the run, we gotta help each other, turn from a scar to a pearl, yeah we got the love, livin in a mad mad world, it's a mad man's world…”,… “So get what you can, They've got your compromised, You wanna laugh and be dancing in the streets, But you're being fined, You've got to sacrifice, They make mistakes and we're the ones who pay…”
Listening to III, you get the distinct impression these songs were written during the pandemic. The main lyric themes seem to be questioning people and relationships. The Winery Dogs aren't about making political statements, but it's unavoidable that the cause and effect of the political climate during lockdowns has crept its way into their dialogue. III feels darker than previous albums because of this.
Portnoy notes, “I'd like our listeners to be transported in a way that they can experience what we are going through. Our records are snapshots of life, and how we're living it”. Kotzen says his approach to songwriting and recording is, “to be as true to the vision that's in my head, heart and soul and not try to think about 'how am I gonna do it live'.”
In Breakthrough, Kotzen sings, “You're telling me I was your favourite, You made me feel like wasted time, I always thought you looked for angles, To put you over in your life, Now I see how cool you play it, And how you look the other way, I was so naive to think you'd ever stay, And now im having a Breakthrough, And now I know what I'm facing is the truth…” It's a song about realising the truth of a relationship. We've all been there!
Rise begins with a loud and chaotic-sounding riff that settles into the signature blues-rock sound, complete with Kotzen lead guitar interspersed. He boldly declares in the chorus, “They build you up, they pull you down, but I Rise, Rise, Rise …”… “Their bitter tongues spit and yell, judging the unwell, I come out unscathed”
Stars opens with the line, “I've been in a condition of doubt, I don't know if I'm in or out” a song about a relationship being tested and it is followed by The Vengeance which starts with a chugging rhythm and builds up to a hard hitting chorus where Kotzen wails ” You don't break my boredom, you break my balls'' leading into a blistering lead guitar solo. In my opinion, this is the best lyric on the album and had me chuckling. Relationship woes continue with Gaslight, Richie Kotzen's voice proclaiming, “Right from the start you're bringing crazy, That's how you like to play, Twist up the mind and keep it hazy, Do what you wanna do but don't Gaslight me…”
Lorelei it's a slower bluesy track that is filled with emotion. This is the album ballad. I listen with my eyes closed as Richie soars into his head voice, it's so good that I had to replay it, and then the lead guitar solo that followed. WOW! This is what I was needing and it delivers – in spades. With lyrics like “Sugar coat my heart, Lead me from my woes, A siren story told, Oh Lorelei oh Lorelei, I'd rather die than go home…” I'm sold. It brings tears to my eyes. It's beautiful and heartfelt.
III ends with a song of celebration and joy, The Red Wine, with the lyrics, “People let go of your burden, Rewrite your script and listen what we're saying, …. so come on everybody put your hands up and celebrate…”…”Your composure's fine, Just keep pouring the Red Wine, Three Dogs turning you loose tonight, You've been fortified and it's party time…”
III is everything we've come to expect from The Winery Dogs. Kotzens trademark laid-back, blues-rock plectrum-less picking style guitar playing, and husky, emotive vocals, Sheehan's rolling bass runs that compliment Kotzens guitar to perfection while keeping pace with Portnoy's distinctive punchy drum groove. III is full of ear-catching riffs, hooks and strong harmonies. It’ll have you shaking your booty and humming along, and the following day, that earworm will still be winding its way through your brain. The Winery Dogs are a tight trio who instinctively play off each other's own individual signature style and it blends beautifully on this album. The lyrical themes of life and relationships lend itself to be an album that is easily relatable to most people, with some smile-inducing lyrics that while punctuating the song's vibe, will also emit a chuckle from the listener. There are some heavy rock moments on this album where I found myself nodding my head and pumping my fist in the air, but mostly this album stays in the California blues-rock lane that fans of The Winery Dogs love and appreciate. III is a grower, it needs a few good listens to properly percolate. Given time, I'm sure this album will be a fan favourite. The songs on this album complement previous albums so lets hope we see The Winery Dogs touring in Australia soon.
P.S. Happy Birthday Richie.