earMUSIC 2-CD/DVD [Release date 08.09.14]
A re-appraisal of Richie Kotzen’s work is probably long overdue, and this 2-CD/DVD set – assembled by the man himself – goes some way to provide a suitable portal for the curious.
Signed to Mike Shrapnel’s legendary Shrapnel label in 1989, Kotzen joined Poison and subsequently Mr Big but has since had a prolific solo career.
‘The Essential’ brings together originals and re-recordings of key tracks, along with a couple of demos plus two new songs; so in that sense it is wide-ranging in its scope. Kotzen neatly sums up his music as a “hybrid of classic rock and old school soul.” as evidenced on tracks like ‘Bad Situation’ and ‘Lie To Me’.
Among the highlights on CD1 is ‘Fooled Again’, an eight minute tour de force and emphasising Kotzen’s great fluidity on guitar along with ever-present commercial sensitivity. Of the new tracks, ‘War Paint’ is excellent too and showcases Kotzen’s soulful vocal and fusion guitar stylings.
The second CD is nearly all acoustic and includes re-recordings of several songs spanning 1998-2013 and two demos from his recent and highly-rated Winery Dogs project with Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan.
I assume that the re-recordings may have been prompted by a lack of access to the originals but, whatever, they do give the listener a chance to hear the songs in a new light, whilst the omission of anything from his two albums with Mr.Big is maybe surprising (not even ‘Shine’ one of two songs he co-wrote with Richie Zito).
This is, though, essentially a guitarist’s guitarist album. In truth, this collection misses out his first solo decade but maybe it will tee up a second volume based on this earlier period or at least spark a renewed interest in Kotzen’s work in general. ‘The Essential’ shines a welcome spotlight on an underrated and sometimes overlooked guitar hero. ****
Richie Kotzen plays Islington Academy, London, 16 September
Review by David Randall
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