Comprised of drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), bassist Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, Steve Vai), and guitarist/vocalist Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr. Big, solo), The Winery Dogs have made a significant impact in the rock world since the release of their self-titled opus in 2013. Their sound is an amalgam of the influences that shaped each member, from blues and soul all the way to progressive metal. This hard-to-categorize yet ultimately cohesive style has earned the band praise from critics and audiences alike, making the group one of the most promising acts in the genre’s contemporary scene. But, due to their various side projects, the trio’s activity has been often hit by considerable, momentum-halting pauses, leaving many wishing for more music from their end. So, unsurprisingly, the late 2022 announcement of a new album generated widespread anticipation. After eight long years, the aptly titled III finally marks the return of the mighty supergroup to the realm of studio creation.
Those familiar with the trio’s many previous ventures are fully aware that they are three of the most technically capable musicians on the planet. However, instrumental virtuosity does not always translate into great music, and a number of technically brilliant bands often fall into self-indulgence. But not The Winery Dogs. Their music is both highly technical and soul-filled, and the instrumental pyrotechnics merely serve as a tool to increment the trio’s resourceful and creative song-based output, an approach that was made quite apparent on The Winery Dogs (2013) and Hot Streak (2015). III follows in these footsteps, expanding upon the elements laid before with added inventiveness and textures.
At first, one is inclined to presume that opener “Xanadu” is a cover of the 11-minute Rush epic, given Portnoy’s avowed obsession with the legendary Canadian prog rock trio. However, the song is actually an outstanding original composition, which capitalizes on a unique blend of jazz, progressive metal, and power pop and features a zestful performance by the whole band. Kotzen’s on fire — his guitar and vocal chops as sharp as ever — and the duo of Sheehan and Portnoy, in addition to providing a solid foundation for Kotzen’s acrobatics, delivers perfectly-timed, song-enriching fills and runs. The phenomenal blues-based rocker “Mad World” plays out similarly but focuses a little more on Kotzen’s eloquent vocals, which bridge the gap between Chris Cornell and Paul Rodgers with an added distinctive soul/R&B flair. The stellar rhythm section then reduces their energetic antics for the post-grunge-inspired “Breakthrough”, which has its catchy, hook-heavy structure almost reaching pop rock territory, a process only thwarted by Kotzen’s incendiary, puncturing lead work.
We are then treated to the two heaviest tracks on the album. The middle eastern-tinged “Pharaoh” is a progressive metal mid-tempo workout, featuring powerful, brilliant interplays between Kotzen and Sheehan, supported and elevated by Portnoy’s godlike drumming. Equally heavy but moving at a breakneck pace, the Deep Purple-inspired “Gaslight” is a fierce speed metal track whose leads are pure fire and brimstone — Kotzen proving that he could easily hold his own against the most demonic neoclassical shredders. “Lorelei”, on the other hand, is a soulful blues ballad that contains an inspired guitar solo that has Kotzen flaunting his strong melodic inclinations, in addition to including perhaps the best vocals on the album. Then, the driving arena rock number “The Red Wine” strides on the offensive and concludes the record.
Arguably The Winery Dogs’ best album to date and packed with soul, dynamics, and variety, the electrifying III lives up to the high expectations and has the trio taking advantage of enhanced chemistry levels and reaching the peak of their powers. A must listen.
The Review: 9.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Mad World
The Big Hit
Buy the album: Amazon