RICHIE KOTZEN – Cannibals

Richie Kotzen - CannibalsFormer Poison and Mr Big guitar player Richie Kotzen is known for releasing solo records in a pretty fast pace, until now. It has been quite some time since he gave us something new to sink our teeth into. Last time he released something new, we got the brilliant album 24 Hours in 2011 (I’m not counting last years Essential compilation) and almost four years in between records for a guy like Kotzen is one hell of a long time. Of course, this has everything to do with the fabulous and quite unexpected success of The Winery Dogs, the band Kotzen has together with Mr Big bass player Billy Sheehan and ex Dream Theater / ex Adrenaline Mob drummer Mike Portnoy (also in Flying Colors and Transatlantic). The Winery Dogs self titled album sold beyond all expectations and usually with all these all-star projects, it stays with one album made and nothing more, but this one turned out so great that the guys decided to tour and as for now it looks like Winery Dogs are a full-blown band and not just a project. Oh, the joy! Hopefully it will stay that way for a long time to come. When it comes to Kotzen’s solo releases, he has never disappointed me even though his stuff are usually very varied and unpredictable and his albums many times comes in different styles – everything from rhythm & blues and rock to fusion. But mostly, what he does is rough rock ‘n’ roll with a big groove and swing. Since his self titled debut album in 1989, Kotzen has released no less than 20 solo albums (last year’s Essential not counted). His career also holds one album with Poison, two with Mr Big, one with The Winery Dogs and one with Japanese outfit Forty Deuce. Of course, with all those releases, it should be impossible to only release world-class products, something has to falter at some time, but it’s remarkable how high in quality everything Kotzen puts out really is. Of his solo stuff, I hold Mother Head’s Family Reunion (1994) and The Return Of Mother Family Reunion a.k.a. Go Faster (2007) as Kotzen’s finest moments, but his last album 24 Hours was also a real treat. The fact that Kotzen had released a new solo album actually came like out of the blue for me, I had heard no news of a new album from him, so this was a nice surprise in the dawn of the new year. Or at least I hoped it would be. But when it comes to Richie Kotzen, I never worry that his albums will turn out anything but really good because I’m really sure about Kotzen never releasing anything mediocre just to have a product out.

The album opens with the title track, a bluesy and funky little rocker that sounds like it’s right out the 70’s, with a really catchy melody. “In An Instant” has a dreamy vibe and a big 70’s feel. It rocks, but I hear influences from soul (real soul from the 70’s, not the crap they call soul today…) and even disco influenced 70’s pop – so damn brilliant! “The Enemy” is an amazing ballad with a “Missing You” (John Waite) kind of rhythm groove and the over all sound has a resemblance to the sound Rolling Stones had on Some Girls (1978). “Shake It Off” is awesome. It’s a 70’s funk-soul-rock’n’roll tune where the big Hammond and swinging bass rules the song that ends with a killer jam. “Come On Free” is a bit hard to label, but the soul, funk and pop influences makes me think of 70’s police TV series like Kojak or Baretta – very cool. The heaviest track on the album is “I’m All In”, a steady rock funker with a groove de luxe and a really cool duet with King’s X frontman Dug Pinnick. “Up (You Turn Me)”, on the other hand is a brilliant little pop tune that holds a bit of both soul and funk but where the catchy melody is what makes the song a winner. The album closes with the acoustic, but still very catchy ballad “Time For The Payment” and even though I usually prefer a kicking rocker as an album closer, this one does the job very well – great song!

The one thing I truly love about Kotzen’s solo career, apart from that he always write high quality songs, is that he’s totally unpredictable, you never know how the next album will sound. Ok, it might not be a wild guess that his albums will be some kind of rock, one way or the other, but the outcome usually differs from one album to another. This time, Kotzen – who has always had at least one foot back in the 70’s – now takes the full jump back and sometimes he’s touching the 60’s as well. And it suits him well. Kotzen has an “old” voice, he always sounded a lot older than he was (and that’s a compliment, peeps) and his raspy way of singing suits 70’s hard rock brilliantly. This album is probably his most raw piece of work in a long, long time. He has never been afraid to mix outside influences in to his music, but on this album, his outside influences like funk, R&B, soul are more prominent than ever and it sure makes the music breathe. Once again, Kotzen has delivered the goods and I’m sure this guy couldn’t make a bad album even if he wanted to. After all, this was the guy who single-handed turned Poison from a mediocre party band into a serious rock band. I can bet an arm and a leg on that he more or less wrote that album by himself. If you’re a Kotzen fan, then this album is probably already in your record collection and if you haven’t heard anything with this man yet, it’s time to change that now!

Jon Wilmenius (8/10)

Tracklist:

01. Cannibals
02. In An Instant
03. The Enemy
04. Shake It Off
05. Come On Free
06. I’m All In
07. Stand Tall
08. Up (You Turn Me)
09. You
10. Time For The Payment

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