Just over seven years since their previous album – in other words, a dog’s year – the wait is over and we have a new The Winery Dogs release to listen to. The band was formed in 2012 when Billy Sheehan (bass) and Mike Portnoy (drums) were looking for a six-string genius to join them on a guitar-driven power trio. And boy, did they find one in Richie Kotzen! Richie had been Billy’s band-mate in Mr. Big for a few years, and somehow it did not occur to anyone that he would be a great fit, until Eddie Trunk suggested they gave him a call. The result was an incredible debut, with roots firmly planted in the rock bands of the late 60’s and early 70’s – think Grand Funk Railroad, Cactus, Beck, Bogart & Appice, The Who etc.
Starting a band from the ground up was a challenge that these three musicians hadn’t faced in a long time, and they ticked every box of this plan, with a successful first tour playing in smaller venues, and an excellent follow up in 2015’s “Hot Streak.” The sophomore album exposed them to a much larger audience, and guaranteed spots on summer festivals everywhere. Notably, on one particular leg of that tour they had Jeff Scott Soto’s band as the opener, which led to Soto being chosen as the vocalist of another one of Portnoy’s bands, Sons of Apollo.
The Dogs’ rise to the top seemed unstoppable, but Billy, Mike and Richie returned to their respective corners to focus on various other projects for the ensuing next few years. While this may have been a needed break at the time, it caused them to lose some momentum, and kept the fans wondering what could have been if they went straight into the studio to record a third album. It would take them a few years to play together again, but a small scale tour of 2019 reignited the flame and rekindled the trio, who was ready to record a third album. Unfortunately, we all know what happened between 2020 and 2022, and their plans were derailed. With the three members living miles away from each other, Covid made it impossible to jam and collaborate for months on end. But now it’s the right time to let the dogs out, and once again they’re ready to take the world by the balls in 2023, with a brand new release in tow.
Simply titled “III”, the new album kicks off with the two songs that were already revealed to the public, “Xanadu” and “Mad World”. Chances are that if you’re reading this review you’re interested in the band and already listened to them, but just in case, let me clarify: “Xanadu” is NOT a Rush or Olivia Newton-John cover. Instead of that, we get a funky and fast paced number, driven by Portnoy’s drums on the verses, with harsh lyrics and an incredible chorus. “Mad World” is a Motown-meets-Stevie-Wonder number, with a syncopated riff, and is arguably the most soulful song the trio ever created. Billy’s bass solo on the outro alone is worth the price of admission.
Mike has described the dynamic of the band as Richie being the anchor and him and Billy running in circles around him, much like The Who’s recipe where Keith Moon and John Entwistle were doing crazy things and Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey were holding down the songs. This is none more evident on “Breakthrough”, where Richie’s vocals soar high as he goes philosophical on some of the lines: “I realize because we’re who we are / we’ll never be what we were”. I’d be surprised if this is not their choice for the third single.
“Rise” brings back the funk, with added cowbell and hi-hat work from Mike, and an expansive bridge with an interesting vocal arrangement where all three members sing. Richie’s edgy solo is preceded by a blistering bass part and a unison where all three are completely locked in. “Stars” is classic Dogs material, an organic number with a solo section that was clearly born out of the three of them jamming in a sweaty and small room.
On the interview I did with Billy (which you can check out HERE), he agreed with the notion that while the first album was more straight-ahead rock and the second one had a little more experimentation, “III” was intended as a combination of these two approaches. That becomes clear on a track like “Vengeance”, arguably the nastiest curve ball on the album. Richie’s menacing lyrics and pedal-heavy guitar work are paired with a catchy chorus and hummable melodies throughout.
“Pharaoh” is introduced by a distorted bass line, followed by a rocking riff. The perfect mix between soul and shred, this would be a great addition to the latter part of their live set. “Gaslight” kicks in and adds pedal to the metal, with a vibe similar to “Elephant Gun”, from David Lee Roth’s solo debut, an album that Billy was also a part of. Putting together a set-list, as well as sequencing songs on the album, is an art form that Mike excels on. And so it is that he chose the waltzing ballad “Lorelei” to be placed at the tail end of the album, much like “Regret” did on the band’s debut and “Think It Over” did on “Hot Streak”. The guitar melody follows Richie’s soulful delivery, and the tale of the enticing mermaid Lorelei gains a new light with enigmatic lyrics.
The album ends with the ultimate party anthem “The Red Wine”, with Richie’s swagger and precision once again taking center stage, and a chorus carefully crafted for the live setting. Billy’s outro drives the listener to the hard edge, ending the proceedings on a note soaring towards infinity.
Is this their best release? That’s hard to say. Some fans will agree that it is, while others will not, and in the age of polarization, debates like this hardly ever get a clear winner. What “III” is though, is an incredible addition to the Dog’s catalogue, and an album that can propel them to new heights. The pull of the members’ other bands will always be there: Mike Portnoy has a million things going on in parallel, Billy might do a reunion tour with Mr. Big, and Richie has a prolific solo career and potentially more shows with Adrian Smith. One can only hope that the extensive tour they have planned for this year gives them enough momentum to keep going and reach a steadier pace. These Dogs are barking at your musical doors louder than ever, and you’d be a fool if you don’t let them in.
Released By: Three Dog Music
Release Date: February 3rd, 2023
Genre: Hard Rock
- Richie Kotzen / Guitars, vocals
- Billy Sheehan / Bass, vocals
- Mike Portnoy / Drums, vocals
2. Mad World
6. The Vengeance
10. The Red Wine
The Winery Dogs deliver exactly what’s expected of them on their third album: catchy hooks and riffs, funky and soulful moments, with jaw-dropping shredding parts in-between. The production is organic, crispy and clear, and the fun that the trio seems to have while playing together is ultimately contagious