With the term “supergroup” being tossed around to describe nearly any inter-band musical project or collaborative effort, a need exists for a new phrase to describe truly successful pairings like Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen’s new venture. Letting their music speak for itself, Smith/Kotzen sets a contemporary standard for what a guitar tandem can and should aspire to. A textbook example of the sum being greater than the whole of its parts, the album far exceeds a cursory retreading of each player’s individual writing and guitar styles. Instead, the duo creates a set of nine impressive originals that have a sound and feel all of their own.
Unsurprisingly, Smith/Kotzen goes heavy on the guitar, but neither Smith nor Kotzen depends upon their virtuosity to carry the record. The album is a guitar enthusiast’s dream, and the quality of the songwriting elevates the tunes to match the level of the instrumental thrills and vocal aggression. Each track strikes a nice balance between raw inspiration, emotion, and high-quality studio production. None of the compositions seem stilted or forced, and Smith and Kotzen make sure to take the time and present listeners with the best version of each song.
“Taking My Chances” emphatically introduces the album with a nifty syncopated guitar line that quickly transforms into a grungy crunchy riff. The duo effortlessly trade licks and vocal duties as they powerfully burst through several different sections and guitar tones. Seamless transitions that flow naturally from verse, to chorus, to solos make the number a joy to listen to. “Scars,” potentially the set’s best effort, slows the tempo for a darker, brooding rocker with a chorus that features a guitar motif that begs for repeated listenings. Smith/Kotzen intuitively shortens the instrumental passages, drawing the focus to the expertly crafted changes.
“Some People” features a clever bass line that appears in different instruments throughout the song. The aptly titled “Solar Fire” boasts a funky pre-chorus and some great soloing from both axe-wielders. Nicko McBrain provides a little extra drumming kick to make it one of the most energetic tracks. Its successor, “You Don’t Know Me,” takes the opposite approach as perhaps the darkest, edgiest song of the group, and the song’s coda is another one of the album’s many highlights.
In reality, each of the nine songs deserves its own mention, as all the tracks display different facets of the tandem’s writing and playing range. Smith/Kotzen varies their guitar voicings and moods more within individual songs than lesser albums do within their entire runtime, yet none of the changes sound jarring or out of place. It just works. Their voices pair nicely as well. For a first attempt as a duo, the ease with which they share vocal duties and harmonize on some of the key choruses is impressive. It is another strong point on an album filled with strengths. Smith and Kotzen both show an incredible breadth of creativity in the rhythm and lead guitar playing—it is fantastic.
The stated goal of Smith/Kotzen was to create an album that could hold its own against other classic rock albums. It does. Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen incorporate some of the best aspects of ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s hard rock while imbuing more-than-enough originality to make the Smith/Kotzen duo more than just a passing fancy. For listeners familiar with either artist, the album is not to be missed, and for those late to the party, Smith/Kotzen serves as the perfect vehicle to get acquainted with two of today’s premier rock musicians.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Taking My Chances
– Solar Fire
– You Don’t Know Me
The Big Hit