Adrian Smith is best known as the most tasteful (in my opinion!) guitarist in a band you may have heard of, Iron Maiden. He has written some of the band’s best material (also in my opinion!), and when he left Maiden in 1990 to pursue a solo career with his band Adrian Smith and Project (A.S.A.P.), Maiden’s downhill trajectory soon followed. When he returned to the Maiden fold in 1999 (along with vocalist Bruce Dickinson) they became the biggest metal band on the planet again.
Before he took Dennis Stratton’s place in Iron Maiden back in 1980, Smith was the lead vocalist and guitarist in his own band Urchin, who themselves had some limited success. Smith’s vocal prowess has been highlighted with Maiden over the years as a more than capable backing vocalist, and he sang lead vocals on the fantastic B side to ‘Wasted Years’ – ‘Reach Out’ back in 86.
He shares vocal and guitar (bass and lead) duties on this collaboration with former Mike Varney prodigy, Poison, Mr Big and Winery Dogs guitarist/vocalist Richie Kotzen. Kotzen’s first ever concert experience was Iron Maiden’s renowned World Slavery tour back in 1985 and he’s come full circle by writing and performing with one of the guys on that very stage. Not that he’s been a slouch himself with a pedigree that’s world class.
The pair met in an LA restaurant (as you do), got chatting, jamming, writing, and recording and the result is an album that shows both Smith and Kotzen in a light we haven’t seen before. A stylish blend of classic rock, blues rock, and straight up R & B mixed with the combined talents of Smith and Kotzen produces a strong album with some fantastic performances.
The album was produced by Smith and Kotzen themselves with long time Maiden producer Kevin Shirley handling mixing duties. Smith’s Maiden buddy Nicko McBrain makes a guest appearance on the track ‘Solar Fire’ and Tal Bergman (Billy Idol, Simple Minds) lends his tub thumping talents to the songs ‘You Don’t Know Me’, ‘I Wanna Stay’ and ‘Til Tomorrow’. Kotzen plays drums on the remaining songs…so talented, makes me sick! Ha ha!
Opening up with ‘Taking My Chances’ and ‘Running’ there’s a definite nod to the bands of the 70s that have obviously influenced the duo. Bad Company and Free come to mind with some great bluesy licks. It’s not hard to differentiate between Smith and Kotzen in both voice and guitar styles, Smith has a more refined vocal style while Kotzen has echoes of the late, great Chris Cornell is his delivery. ‘Scars’ is the standout track for me with it’s haunting melody and Hendrix style lead work. This one sticks in your mind after a few plays, the guys trading licks at will. Great stuff.
‘Some People’ lays down a thick groove with an almost funky feel. More guitar wizardry is again tastefully added to the track without overpowering the song. ‘Glory Road’ is a straight-ahead rocker with some added swagger and lyrics about how to be successful in a band, (they should know!) A catchy, sing a long chorus make this another highlight. You can feel the chemistry between the pair, and it translates well onto record even though they recorded much of the album with five thousand miles between them due to the pandemic.
‘Solar Fire’ really benefits from sticksman McBrain’s powerhouse drumming, you certainly know he’s there! There’s a throwback to his days with the Pat Travers Band here, a great 70s vibe. ‘You Don’t Know Me’ is another track that has a less is more approach that works well. The songs aren’t just vehicles for the pair to show off their chops, they really are playing for the songs. That said, this track is a little on the long side. ‘I Wanna Stay’ really shows how soulful Smith can be, he really does have a fantastic voice which wouldn’t work in the Maiden set up. The album closes with ‘Til Tomorrow’ another classy number with an almost dreamlike quality. Apparently, the recording sessions left the duo with ‘tracks to spare’ so I’m sure this album won’t be a one off.
The guys really want to take the project out on the road when restrictions are (finally) lifted and I think these songs will work fantastically in the live arena. As Richie says, “When the time is right, and it’s safe, we’ll have a conversation about some players – male or female – that will help us take this to the next level and bring the music to the stage. We both want to play live, we both miss it terribly actually. Before all this stuff happened I said I was ready to take a break from the road – but I’m sure as hell ready to go now!”
Aren’t we all Richie, aren’t we all…..
Author: Kenny Kendrick