TENUOUS LINK ALERT: Adrian Smith is a big fishing fan. British comedians Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse are, too. And they put together a (now three series long) show where the two of them lark about, knee deep in water, musing on life as they snare all manner of Gudgeon, Perch and Sea Bass. For guitarists Smith and Californian neighbour Richie Kotzen, this album represents a similar sort of opportunity; two men, both at the top of their careers, with nothing to prove, gently nudging one another to new heights of, not comedic genius, obviously – but certainly to heights of musical excellence.
I’m glad I got that off my chest (so are we-Ed). Sentinel Daily wasn’t deemed important enough to get a pre-release copy of S/K, so there’s a good chance most of you with an interest in the album will already own it or have at least heard the thing in full, and therefore have already formed an opinion on the record. But to those of you still undecided – take the plunge. This is an easy listening album in the best sense, in that you’ll simply slip it into or onto your delivery method of choice and simply soak it up, over and over again. Running is an early highlight, searing melodic rock not a million miles away from what Smith was doing in ASaP all those years ago, but the most part the pair are happy to settle into a bluesy rocking groove that on the face of it would seem to be more Kotzen’s area of expertise – but over the course of the nine tracks it becomes readily apparent that this actually is an area of music where both musicians are supremely competent – and then some.
The grungy Scars is a titanic track, kinda reminiscent of last years superb Silverthorne EP, Tear The Sky Wide Open, whilst Some People revisits the sort of funky blues Kotzen was churning out in the early nineties, on albums like Mother Head’s Family Reunion; again, you might think that this is outside of Smith’s comfort zone, but you’d be wrong. Throughout the album he matches Kotzen lick for tasteful lick, bluesy flurry for bluesy flurry, and if he’s not quite in the same vocal league as his chum, the way the pair work through the vocals together means that the disparity in the pair’s vocal power never becomes a problem.
Glory Road is a well, glorious, testament to the power of a bluesy electric guitar, sounding what you imagine Free might sound like in 2021, mixing in a few Hendrix licks along the way, whilst Iron Maiden fans will welcome the familiar drum rolls of one N. McBrain on the propulsive Solar Fire. Without shifting too far from the basic blues rock format, this pair cover a lot of hard rocking ground on this album.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is You Don’t Know Me, the most ‘Smithesque’ track on the record, where Adrian manages to insert a nice UFO-styled feel into the verses – as brilliant as it is unexpected, but again the skill of the two musicians means that the track doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. And the soloing from both players on this track is off the chain.
At the end of the day, everyone loves listening to people who are good at what they do doing it well, and that’s just what you get with this record. And, like those two comedians I mentioned earlier, it would be great to see these guys getting a second and third ‘series’ to treat us to some more of the good stuff in the years to come.
Smith/Kotzen is out now.