If you look up the word ‘creative’ in a dictionary, there’s a good chance you’ll find a picture of Richie Kotzen there. In 1989, aged 19, he released his first solo album and when American glam rockers Poison called and asked for his services – well it was actually an audition – as C.C. DeVille’s replacement, he had already made three albums under his own name. One album with Poison – the very underrated Native Tongue (1993) – was all he got to make with that band before he got the boot (apparently he nicked drummer Rikki Rockett’s girlfriend…) and was replaced by Blues Saraceno. He made six more solo albums between 1994 – 1999 when he joined melodic rockers Mr Big as Paul Gilbert’s replacement and with them he released two albums, Get Over It (1999) and Actual Size (2001) before that band split up. Since then he has made twelve more studio albums, including this new one (21 albums, all in all, live records excluded). Then add two albums with his new band The Winery Dogs and one with his Japanese project Forty Deuce and you don’t have to be a mathematic professor to figure out that this guy is one hell of a creative spirit and a fast song writer. Now, all of his records might not be masterpieces but I have yet to hear an album featuring Kotzen that is bad.
Opening track “End Of Earth” kicks off – raw, stripped and down to Earth, the Led Zeppelin vibe is all over the song but also comes with a trippy, late 60’s feel and melodies that that comes close to much of the stuff that are on the latest Winery Dogs record. The big jam-ending rises to the occasion with shitloads of sparks and passion – I so love this! “Thunder” has a big groove, classic 70’s hard rock style and even a twist of mid 90’s rock. The song’s chorus is very catchy without being the least radio friendly and as a whole, it’s a classic Richie Kotzen solo track, great as usual. “Divine Power” is raw and heavy blues in a slower pace, very basic with an awesome and memorable melody.
There’s a slight change of direction, style wise, when “I’ve Got You” comes along. This one is a swinging 70’s pop-rocker with a funky bass line and a rhythm that would make you swing even if you were in a coma. The chorus is also super catchy and sticks to the brain right off the bat. We get a soft pop half-ballad, soulful with swing and catchiness in “My Rock” and Richie’s vocals here are amazingly passionate and honest – brilliant. “This Is Life” is a slow blues and jazz influenced ballad and if I close my eyes I can almost feel the smell of cigarette smoke and whiskey from a small club environment. Very real, authentic and emotional. “Make It Easy” is a classic Richie Kotzen rocker. This is classic rock with a bad-ass groove in a faster pace and a gospel-like choir (which is in reality only singer Julia Lage) in the chorus – a swinging killer!
“Meds” comes along with a strong beat, some funky bass lines that grooves like there’s no tomorrow and an intoxicating melody. That said, the tune is on the more laid back and mellow side but still with enough dynamics and attitude to last a lifetime. “Should I start taking meds?”, asks Richie and the answer is, of course, no. Music is the only meds you need – which also goes for me, thank you very much. He keeps the laid back and mellow vibes with the vintage soul influenced pop / blues / rock number “Cannon Ball” and even though the tune is softer and almost cozy, it’s never short of groove or dynamics. The album ends with a short acoustic pop / rock number called “Grammy” and the fact is, the tune is actually too short which makes it feel like an intermission of some kind. Which it is not as it is the closing track, but it’s hard to get a grip on it. But after a few spins it stands clear that it is a good song, I only wish it had been a bit longer.
Salting Earth might not be Kotzen’s best album to date – that spot goes to Mother Head’s Family Reunion (1994) and The Return Of The Mother Head’s Family Reunion (2007) (also titled Go Faster in some countries) in my book – but fear not, this is a great album and one of his best, I must say. Lyrically, I also get the feeling that this is a very personal, autobiographical record where Kotzen opens up and lets the listener in to visit some of his most private corners which also brings a feeling of honesty and truthfulness. As a musician, Kotzen is without a doubt one of the best out there, his somewhat raspy voice never seems to stop to amaze me and as a guitar player, the guy is a complete wizard full of heart, soul, passion and love. On this album, Richie also plays every instrument himself which speaks volumes of how talented this man is. Oh, how I wish that Kotzen someday will take all the tunes he wrote for Poison and Mr Big and re-record them himself so that we get to hear just how they SHOULD sound. For Kotzen fans, this album is a must-get and for all of you who have yet to discover this fantastic musician and song writer, it’s time now. You only have 21 solo albums to buy…
Other Richie Kotzen reviews:
1. End Of Earth
3. Divine Power
4. I’ve Got You
5. My Rock
6. This Is Life
7. Make It Easy
9. Cannon Ball