Sound — 8
The Winery Dogs formed as a project/supergroup when Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy were exploring avenues to work together in 2012. They recruited Richie Kotzen for guitar and vocals and formed The Winery Dogs. Their previous releases for this project include a phenomenal self-titled debut album, and a live album recorded in Japan. "Hot Streak" includes thirteen tracks that clock in at sixty-five minutes. The overall sound of the album could be loosely described as classic rock, '80s hair metal, and grunge and grunge metal being mixed together and being played by some seriously skilled musicians.
"Oblivion" is a track the group wrote while touring for their self-titled debut, and it basically sounds like what it is, which is an intense track that borders on being a little too busy. The problem with the track is that while everyone plays superbly, there isn't really an impression of movement in the track - it feels like it doesn't ever quite go anywhere. "Captain Love" dips pretty deeply into the over-the-top '80s hair metal thing, the lyrics even going into the realm of '80s cheese - but the instrumental treatment of the track is so honest and earnest I found myself tapping my foot along with it. "Hot Streak" reminded me, in just the first few dozen opening measures, of some of the more aggressive jazz fusion acts around these days. The band definitely isn't going to be mistaken for a jazz band for very long, but the intro definitely had a strong dash of that flavor in it. "How Long" was built around a Stanly Clarke-influenced bassline that Sheehan used as a warm-up exercise and Portnoy and Kotzen got involved and fleshed it out to a full song. "Empire" is a nice mix of funk and classic rock that exemplifies the vibe that I imagine the band was going for with the album. "Fire" has an almost Spanish vibe, and relies on mostly acoustic instrumentation and sad lyrics. "Ghost Town" comes after "Fire" and kind of pumps you back up after "Fire" took the energy level down. "Ghost Town" is musically aggressive, but lyrically and vocally is a little bit more settled - in the end, it has a unique vibe going on that makes it really stand out. "The Bridge" has a nice swampy hard rock intro, though later in the song the music feels more like it is reaching towards being ascendant for the most part. "War Machine" has a "hard rock meets the blues" thing going on, which works out to be a really interesting track. "Spiral" seems like it is flirting with disco, but the illusion is destroyed when Richie's vocals start up - he just doesn't have a disco kind of voice. The song does embody the feeling of the song's title during a few long moments. "Devil You Know" is where you really see Sheehan and Kotzen stretch their legs - Portnoy, too, but he stretches his legs on most tracks. "Think It Over" has a nice retro R&B vibe going on, and I honestly found myself enjoying this track immensely. The album closes out with "The Lamb," which has a strong gospel sound to it in the intro and a few other brief moments, but it takes the gospel imagery associated with lambs and turns it on its head a little bit.
Lyrics — 8
Richie Kotzen sounds a lot like a more well-balanced version of Chris Cornell on a lot of this album. Richie is definitely one of the stronger vocalist/guitarists that are active these days, and he definitely shows what he can do on "Hot Streak." The lyrics are written, mostly, from a classic rock sensibility. As a sample of the lyrics, here are some from the track "The Lamb": "Look in my window, there's no one home/ The fire's burning, but I'm so cold/ The stormy weather caught me/ The heat of summer is gone/ Been hit by madness, the weight of stone/ Am I on the right side of wrong/ Where do the survivors belong/ I need someone to lead me like a lamb/ Down the path to the water/ Are you gonna feed me from your hand/ I'm the lamb at the slaughter/ Are you gonna bleed me till I'm dry/ Hide my eyes, like a martyr/ I'm gonna let you lead me, here I am/ I'm the lamb, I'm the lamb."
Overall Impression — 8
If I named my favorite drummer then Portnoy would be in the top three. If I named my favorite bass player then Sheehan would be in the top three. Kotzen isn't quite so high on my list, but he's still a seriously talented dude. In the context of The Winery Dogs, each members seems to even rise above their own skill just a little bit to create something greater. The mixing on the album is really kind of phenomenal, with the bass just mixed a tad loud to allow Sheehan's playing to really shine through. My favorite tracks on the album would be "Empire," "The Bridge" and "Think It Over."