CD REVIEW: Richie Kotzen – Peace Sign

Man, I hate Richie Kotzen. Oh don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan. His guitar playing is awesome. His vocals are amazing (like, seriously, it’s utterly unfair for a guitar virtuoso to have such a big-league voice). I have most of his albums and I often daydream about owning one of his Fender signature Strats or Telecasters. I hear he’s a really nice guy, and he continues to release album after album of A-Grade material, all while lookin’ impossibly cool whether he tries to or not. And that’s just the problem. Dude can’t seem to put a foot wrong – don’t ya hate people like that! Kotzeeeeeen!

Kotzen’s latest cruel attempt to make me feel friggin’ miserable about myself is Peace Sign. One of the reasons I envy him so much for this record is because he played all of the instruments himself on most of the songs, yet somehow managed to capture a live band feel. I guess the secret is that the performances aren’t all tweezed and quantized – you can still hear the character behind every note. Another important key to this live feel is the orchestration: rarely do you hear multiple tracks of the same guitar part. Instead, the sonic landscape is quite bare, which of course means you can hear more of what’s going on because the nuance isn’t being smashed to smithereens.

One thing that really grabs me about this CD is the way it moves in cycles. The first five tracks have a bluesy rock edge reminiscent of Kotzen’s previous album, terrifyingly awesome Return of Mother Head’s Family Reunion. The next four are funky and groovy, largely characterised by cleaner guitar tones and more fusiony guitar solos. The final three are more laid back, probably more reminiscent of something like ‘Give It Up’ from Return of Mother Head’s Family Reunion.

My standout tracks are opener ‘My Messiah’ (a big, loud rocker with killer verse/chorus dynamics); ‘Paying Dues’ (check out that killer guitar solo – video below); the very LA-feeling ‘We’re All Famous,’ the celebratory ‘Your Entertainer’ and the groovy ‘You Got Me.’ But every song has a little highlight or gem somewhere, whether it’s a vocal hook, a guitar line, some cool interplay between instruments, or a lyric.

While I can’t wait to hear what Kotzen does next (after all, this CD follows the awesome ‘Return of the Mother Head’s Family Reunion,’ I hope he keeps promoting this album for quite a while yet so it gets the sustained attention it deserves.

Listen to tracks from Peace Sign for free on Richie’s site here.