The Winery Dogs – Hot Streak

Hot Streak is an apt title for The Winery Dogs’ second album! They are on a roll!

It was always a fair bet that I was going to like this band. It does, after all, consist of three of my favourite musicians: Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr Big) on guitar, Billy Sheehan (Mr Big, Steve Vai Band) on bass, and Mike Portnoy (ex. Dream Theater, Transatlantic, Flying Colors, Neal Morse Band, and too many other projects to mention…) on drums. Their first album released in 2013 was a brilliant, intense, hard-rock / blues album, packed full of well-honed songs and stunning musicianship. And now, just over two years later, they have returned with their second album, which doesn’t disappoint.

One of the first things that struck me about Hot Streak was the diversity of the album, taking me in a whole host of musical directions I didn’t expect!

The first track Oblivion is a blistering opener: fast, furious, and familiar. It makes you feel like you’re on well-known territory, picking up nicely where they debut album left off.

Captain Love and Hot Streak are great second and third tracks; both really solid and catchy. The title track is full of intricate cymbal work, and the space created by the drum fills, is perfectly juxtaposed with the frantic unison work.

The transition into How Long is perfect, and Sheehan’s bass brilliantly undergirds what I consider to be the album’s stand out song, and one of the best-written by the band so far. I love the way the vocal melody is mirrored by the guitar line, rather like in The Other Side on their debut album – which incidentally is one of my other favourites. I guess I’m a sucker for that little trick!

Empire is an infectious track with a brilliant, catchy melody on the verse and an unusual slide solo from Richie. I heard in an interview that he didn’t want to finish this track and had to be bullied into it by Portnoy. I’m very grateful Mike wouldn’t give in – the album would not have been the same without this song!

Fire is a beautiful ballad, containing a nice classical guitar solo, and live it would make for a great acoustic slot for Richie, I suspect.

Then we’re into a solid trio of songs, which run together perfectly. From the driving bass and drums of Ghost Town into The Bridge and then landing on War Machine, which is packed with some amazing drum fills, a jaw dropping bass solo, and an unexpected flamenco moment, leading into a 7/4 section. This is probably the most diverse song on the album, but somehow it all flows, and the progressive flourishes don’t detract at all from the fact that this is a brilliantly written, straight up rock song.

After that, Spiral feels a little more restrained and atmospheric, with a beautiful chorus and some hypnotic, almost mechanically precise, bass and drum work.

Devil You Know demonstrates amazing bass and guitar work, and Think it Over is the track that’s most reminiscent of Richie’s solo material, driven by some great bluesy piano playing.

The haunting, soulful intro to The Lamb made me think we were in for a mellow end to the album, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This is a blistering, no-holds barred track, which brings the album to a close with the same sort of intensity with which it opened.

One of the things that’s most impressive about this album is how well it showcases the virtuosic talents of each of the three members, without any of them dominating. The vocal harmonies are better than ever and their unison work is so tight. (Check out the fill in Oblivion from 1:54, for example, and see if doesn’t bring a smile to your face!) Their performances are all ferocious, but not over the top, and they never detract from the good old-fashioned song writing. I honestly think that the only thing I dislike about this album is the cover artwork… and that’s hardly a deal breaker!

Richie’s guitar work is flawless as ever, and he has a great ear for melodies that allow his vocals to soar. This album, more than the first, sounds like one of Richie’s solo albums – which is no criticism at all – it just means that if you’ve not yet had the pleasure of delving into his back catalogue, there’s plenty of great music awaiting you!

Billy Sheehan brings an incredible amount of energy to the album, and his solos on this disc are among the best I’ve heard on a bass. I remember seeing him live with Steve Vai on the G3 tour in 2004. His performance was so electric on a stage as big as the Royal Albert Hall, and I cannot wait to see him play in a smaller setting!

Mike Portnoy is brilliant as ever behind the kit, and the fact that he can release this album only weeks apart from a disc as brutal as the Metal Allegiance debut, shows just what a versatile musician he is. On the one hand I’m grateful he had the courage to leave Dream Theater, since his departure has produced so many great new projects, including this and Flying Colors. But on the other hand, I also can’t help but wonder what Dream Theater might have become if Mike had got his wish and been allowed a break to explore more and come back fresh.

But this band is more than the sum of its parts, and Hot Streak is a great evolution for the band. It’s the kind of disc that will grow on you the more you listen, and I’m sure the live shows will bring an added dimension to the music. I was unable to attend The Winery Dogs’ first London gig in 2014. But with a world tour kicking off now, and heading over our side of the pond in early 2016, it will have to take something quite dramatic to make me miss them again!!

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