Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Album Review: Richie Kotzen - Salting Earth

Richie Kotzen certainly keeps himself busy. Just in the last few years he has released two albums with The Winery Dogs, and played hundreds of shows around the world in support of them, all the while fitting in a solo career in the short breaks in the schedule. He's one of those songwriters who never stops writing, so now that the band is taking a break to explore their other endeavors, Richie is already back with his twenty-first solo album. Produced and played almost exclusively by Richie himself, it is the true epitome of a solo album.

The record kicks off with the six minute "End Of Earth", which takes the hard rock The Winery Dogs plays, simplifies the rhythm section, and puts all the focus on Kotzen. There are multiple sections, some bluesy, some a bit instrumentally busy, and a chorus that slows down to a sweet melody. The production is a bit raw and lo-fi, but not so much that it distracts from the music.

Being a Richie Kotzen album, you know not every song is going to follow the same script. We get tracks like "Thunder", a short and simple heavy rocker built from a groovy riff, and other songs like "Divine Power", which is a slow and acoustic blues number. I know what direction I prefer, so I'm not sure what to make of the R&B style of "My Rock". While on the one hand I enjoy Richie's use of harmonies throughout the track, I also find the melody to be on the verge of being too repetitive.

I think the low point is "This Is Life", which is more than five minutes of twisted soul music that never really seems to hit on the main point. I can hear in Richie's delivery that he truly believes in the song, but I'm not sure I hear what that song is. Melodically, it's deficient when compared to what I know he's capable of.

The danger in albums like this, which traverse a fairly wide number of styles, is that it's incredibly difficult to do them all well enough to please listeners who aren't necessarily fans of all of them. I know that's the case for me. When Richie sticks to playing music that is more clearly pop and rock oriented, the songs are very good. It's when he starts off down roads that I normally don't travel that I get lost. There's that section in the middle of the album that diverges from my taste too much. I'm not going to say they're bad songs, since I don't listen to enough music in those styles to compare. What I will say is that the album loses all its momentum, for me, when that happens.

Ultimately, "Salting Earth" is an album that showcases the various sides of Richie's musical personality. I, myself, am not as diverse as Richie, so I can't get as much out of the album as he put in. There's plenty of good songs on the album, but they don't hold together as an entire album as much as I would like. But given the nature of solo projects, that's not entirely opposite the point.

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