For those unaware, guitarists Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen, of Iron Maiden and The Winery Dogs fame respectively, got together and brought out an album. It was lean and keen and generally got more than favourable reviews. Whilst getting on with their individual careers, they also found time to take in a brisk tour of both the USA and here in the UK earlier this year and another release in the form of an EP.
Now comes another full-length recording, though it’s in fact a record of two parts. The Better Days half being the EP this pair brought out in 2021, featuring a couple of tracks left over from their collaborative debut and two more brand new ones. That EP came out as limited edition 12” vinyl edition, this being its first time round on CD. As you might expect by the And Nights appendage, these are live tracks recorded from the tour.
The studio set begins with ‘Better Days’. Featuring a riff that tumbles and wriggles, like a mole burrowing through your garden; it sounds familiar but escapes direct comparisons. Steady and self-assured it’s heavy but with grooving melody, guitars weaving busily throughout. Soulful melancholic refrains chant away on this song of regret, those better days mentioned were yesterdays and like with that riff, you listen, digging deep, trying to get to the heart of the reason why that might be.
Both guitarists race and scream with wild but far-ranging purpose from the get-go on ‘Got A Hold On Me’, subsiding only to allow deep throaty vocals exchanged by both singers before swinging out in vocal harmony. It’s a crash course in appreciation of mid 70s Deep Purple, blasting out with the ferocity of Burn, envelopes a riff that would’ve added another rocker to Stormbringer, yet somehow allows for the heavy funk of Come Taste The Band to sit comfortably within the mix.
Bruised and battered, down but not out, ‘Hate And Love’ is a hardy, mean but well grooved strut. Suitably, guitars take flight again with ‘Rise Again’, as does the bass; zipping here, there and practically everywhere with long instrumental passages of progressive rock fluidity while Smith delivers a near monologue, Kotzen joining on the chorus Kotzen on the chorus. It’s far closer to something Adrian Belew or Frank Zappa could hit you with than anything in Iron Maiden’ catalogue. It’s suitably diverse enough to show they’re willing to go beyond their core fanbase.
For the tour they brought in Brazilians Bruno Valerde on drums and bass player Julia Lage, who’s since also joined Vixen, and happens to count Kotzen as her husband. The live tracks kick off with ‘Hate and Love’ that slides in a little slower than the studio rendition, with Lage’ bass giving it a lazy hard bop, Smith and Kotzen’s more distinctive in their individual styles here, but still highly compatible, as to are they on guitar- Generally taking a back seat during the main song as they concentrate on getting the vocals across, then coming to the fore each soling in tandem at strategic points.
‘Got A Hold On Me’ is apparently about drinking too much, according to Smith’s introduction. Lage again proves nepotism’s not the reason for her standing on stage, as her bass wallops and Valerde’s drums thwack with all the gusto of vintage Deep Purple Mark III, the energised call and response vocals the guys’ up front alongside their stirring guitar shapes capturing a pretty damn good rendition of this track.
Things slow down for tale of regret that is ‘Scars’ with its broad stroked epic feel, encompassing tonal shapes that call to mind Hendrix, a Southern rock band stance, and area rock in a time before mobile phones.
In the studio, ‘You Don’t Know Me’ came across a little like Rainbow’s ‘Stargazer’, live it adds a dash of primetime UFO, but it’s where it takes on an extended instrumental line this song goes places, from fiery blues extravaganzas and several impressive points in between, with guitarists individual styles outlined alongside harmony playing, all ably assisted but a loud and lively rhythm section.
Live, ‘Running’ cruises hard and unrelenting in the verses, both singers hitting singing out high notes in the choruses on lines like “Yeah, I’m running down myself until I feel alive”, that too often can feel like my own theme song, but, ultimately, it’s all perseverance and making things happen, with positive results. Once more, that’s what you get from Smith and Kotzen – They’re not inventing the wheel, but they continue you on a scenic musical ride, and it’s worth the fare. That they continue to complement each other can only bode well.
- Reviewed by Paul H Birch.
- Better Days…And Nights is released via BMG Records on 16th September 2022.
- Official Website
- Better Days
- Got A Hold On Me
- Hate And Love
- Rise Again
- Hate and Love (Live)
- Got A Hold On Me (Live)
- Scars (Live)
- You Don’t Know Me (Live)
- Running (Live)