January 22, 2022

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Review: Smith/Kotzen ‘Better Days’ EP

Smith/Kotzen Better Days EP front cover


By Mike O’Cull

Acclaimed musicians, virtuoso guitarists, and international rock gods Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden) and Richie Kotzen (The Winery Dogs, Poison, Mr. Big) have once again fired up their collaborative project Smith/Kotzen to drop a brief-but-mighty four-song EP called Better Days. The new record comes out November 26th, 2021 via BMG and treats fans to the sound of these two guitar giants expanding and evolving their creative relationship. Both men are volcanic guitarists and excellent singers and the way those talents intertwine is the heart of Smith/Kotzen’s magic. Together, they create high-value, aggressive, and ultra-melodic hard rock in a unique style full of soul and skill. Their sound is arguably approaching the zenith of what hard rock can hope to aspire to be. It’s rooted in the old ways but takes a modernized stance that allows for the energy and tension of today’s life to filter in. Everyone involved has multiple levels of chops to burn and the songwriting is fresh and memorable.

Better Days will be released in conjunction with International Record Store Day’s Black Friday event, which will feature BMG producing a global limited edition 12-inch black vinyl release of these four previously unreleased tracks that will no doubt stoke all the record collectors out in Rock and Roll Land. The songs, themselves, come complete with colossal hooks, outsized riffs, and Smith/Kotzen’s now-expected lead vocal swaps and sweet harmonies. It’s a fine follow-up to the pair’s self-titled debut effort that launched in March of 2021 to great success. There’s just something in the artistic chemistry these two share that creates excitement and demands intense listening.

The EP kicks off with the hard-chugging rocker “Better Days.” It’s an immediately hypnotic track with Soundgarden verse and a hit single chorus and hook. Kotzen and Smith generate a rough-and-smooth combo sound when they sing together that’s impressive and quite enthralling. Their individual vocal tones are completely different but each compliments the other well and their blended sound is epic. The guitars are, of course, ripping and large and will quickly send a lot of players back to the shed.

“Got A Hold On Me” is a full-tilt rock song that careens down the road on the leading edge of danger. It has that “up for grabs” vibe that happens at the peak of every great gig and makes a huge emotional impact. A quick neo-classical interlude adorns the middle but the boys quickly get back to the high-octane goods. Crank it up loud and show some class.

“Hate And Love” is moodier than the cut before it but still struts out of your speakers with a grinding sense of style. Smith/Kotzen’s vocal prowess is on full display on this one and their interwoven parts are magically delicious, especially through headphones. The guitar tones are straight from Heaven above and all the licks and lines are solid and well-conceived.

The final track, “Rise Again,” shreds the strings off of every instrument involved and then turns into a hopeful, quick-stepping cut with a reflective lyrical message. Kotzen takes a glittering solo that rages until the very last second of the song and leaves listeners spent, gasping for breath but eager for more. Smith/Kotzen is one of the most potent musical partnerships in recent memory and anyone looking for the best in new rock music will find it here. Better Days needs to be part of your life. Let’s make it happen, people!

Watch “Better Days”

‘Better Days’ pre-order link 

Smith/Kotzen website 

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