Review: Smith/Kotzen – Better Days EP
BMG (November 26th 2021)
Reviewer: Chris O’Connor
A few years ago, if it had been suggested that the pairing of Iron Maiden man Adrian Smith and Winery Dogs/Poison (etc) man Ritchie Kotzen were to become a musical partnership, the idea would probably have been met with (if nothing else) curled lips and raised eyebrows. When rumours started swirling late in 2020, there was still disbelief in some quarters. Such sneering critics would soon be silenced though, as this pairing released one of the best albums of 2021. Sharing not only guitar duties but vocals too, Adrian and Ritchie have proven to be an inspired pairing, as they complement each other beautifully.
Now, in conjunction with World Record Store – and their Black Friday Event, the fiery duo is back with an all too short but timelessly wonderful new EP. Offered up here are four new songs that again showcases their natural dazzling chemistry to perfection. From the off Messrs Smith and Kotzen are in inspired form, with the title track setting proceedings in motion in massive form. Featuring a huge riff, the guitarists spar off each other effortlessly, while their voices meld gloriously, it’s hugely impressive stuff.
There is almost a sense that with the album, they were taking tentative steps, this time they have simply said ‘what the hell’ and as a result, this is simply next level stuff. The music moves and grooves in a totally organic way, it’s honestly inspiring and inspired. ‘Got A Hold On Me’ is next, with a full throttle, piledriving riff, again the two axemen play of against each other with glorious abandon, while again, their two voices work perfectly together, this is truly a match made in musical heaven, it’s free-wheeling and frantic stuff, both guitarists very obviously firing off each other.
‘Hate and Love’ is a more studied number, funky and soulful in equal measure. This is also more a song about the voices than the guitars, I have always loved Ritchie Kotzen as a vocalist, but Adrian Smith has a wonderfully passionate voice too, and here he truly shines. If pushed, I would choose this track as my favourite on the EP, it’s truly wonderful. A thunderous percussive blast introduces ‘Rise Again’, featuring a certain Mike Portnoy behind the kit. The whole song has a kind of early Mr Big or Winery Dogs vibe to it, which is helped by stunning bass guitar work which strongly evokes Billy Sheehan’s vibrant style. There is a kind of breathless urgency to this number, which surges along frantically, ending abruptly, almost catching you out with its suddenness. This ‘Better Days’ EP immediately makes my top five releases of 2021, and I cannot commend it to you highly enough. Simply marvellous.