It's not a surprise there was a more than seven year gap between The Winery Dogs' full-length albums. The supergroup's members are all busy with numerous other projects. Since Hot Streak was released in 2015, frontman Richie Kotzen has worked on solo material and issued an album with Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith; bassist Billy Sheehan is currently a member of Mr. Big and Sons Of Apollo; drummer Mike Portnoy is in a plethora of bands such as Liquid Tension Experiment, Transatlantic, The Neal Morse Band, Sons Of Apollo and Flying Colors.
In a time where it's easy to record albums remotely with the help of technology, The Winery Dogs approached their latest album III in an old school way, writing material together in Kotzen's home studio and jamming until the songs came together. Sheehan said of the album: "Our music is created by real people playing real instruments, with all of us doing it in a room together. There's nothing artificial about it. I'd like our listeners to be transported in a way that they can experience what we are going through. Our records are snapshots of life, and how we're living it. Our music reflects what's important to us, and what isn't."
With the musical pedigree of the band, there's no doubt the musicianship on III will be outstanding. What may surprise those not familiar with The Winery Dogs' previous material is just how catchy their songs can be. Opener "Xanadu" (not an Olivia Newton-John cover) grabs the listener from the groovy intro to the singalong chorus. "Mad World" has a retro '70s flavor replete with "ooh ooh" backing vocals and groovy guitar and bass solos.
That's followed by the modern rocker "Breakthrough" that's on the mellower side but maintains a brisk tempo. While most tracks follow the hard rock template, they periodically inject brief flurries of prog on tracks like "Rise" that don't derail the proceedings, but add spice to them.
The riffs don't stop on III, driving tracks like "Pharoah" and the rocket-fueled "Gaslight." They show their softer side on the ballad "Lorelei." The album flows well with the ebbs and flows in the right places. Songs like the six minute "Stars" and lengthy closer "The Red Wine" could probably be trimmed a bit, but they still manage to be engaging.
Kotzen's guitar work is outstanding, and his vocals are excellent. He has a bluesy style, and shows both dynamics and range throughout III. Many albums bury the bass in the mix, but with a master like Sheehan, there's no danger of that here. He anchors the proceedings when needed, and steps to the forefront from time to time with a quick lick or the aforementioned solo. Portnoy is thunderous when he needs to be, delicate and precise as the song requires. He's a pro's pro.
Portnoy is right on the money when he says, "What makes The Winery Dogs so great is, every one of these songs is memorable, catchy, and singable, but at the same time, you have this great musicianship in all three departments. It's like a three-ring circus. No matter who you're watching or listening to, you will always be entertained." III accomplishes exactly what it intended to, and fans of the band will be pleased, even though they had to wait longer for the record than they wanted to.