Rather than cheap out and make another EP the Album of the Week, I decided to go ahead and give this one its own space. This new record comes to us from Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen, a perhaps unlikely pairing who offered up a fantastic full-length album earlier in 2021.
Richie Kotzen has been around the block in rock music – over 20 solo albums, many more as a band member, and a slew of guest shots and projects. And Adrian Smith has a handful of various projects over the years, interspersed with his time as a part of Iron Maiden’s celebrated guitar duo/trio. As luck would have it, Kotzen and Smith are neighbors and the pandemic finally gave them a chance to hang out and record some music.
The self-titled debut of Smith/Kotzen was an excellent affair that stood out from the typical “side project” crowd. We’re now offered this 4-song EP as a Black Friday treat. Thankfully this release did not suffer from the secondary market RSD premium and is readily available on wax for normal retail prices. I just couldn’t bear the thought of not having an Iron Maiden-adjacent record in my collection, even if it means financial well-being will elude me.
As there are only 4 songs on this disc, it should be pretty easy to get through a track-by-track look at it.
Smith/Kotzen – Better Days EP
Released November 26, 2021 via BMG
My Favorite Track – Better Days
The EP’s title track leads the proceeding. This is a nice rocker that picks up right where the debut album left off. The song brings the well-worn theme of looking at the past with rose-colored lenses while hoping for better days to come, something certainly relevant after the past few years. On highlight is the guitar work, well done but also very fitting for the song and not just a wank fest showcase. Of course both Smith and Kotzen have long plied their trades in that fashion so it’s no surprise.
Got A Hold On Me
This track kicks up the power a notch. It is another example of rock music done in 2021 outside the influence of alternative rock, something that usually takes a bit of digging to find these days. It’s a song that also would have been at home on the full album, driving home the point that this EP is not an exercise in getting rid of leftovers.
Hate And Love
A more mid-tempo affair that sounds like something that could have been a solid hard rock hit from the later 80’s. It does benefit though from the seasoned experience of the players, both in vocal delivery and in the to-the-point groove of the song. The song is fine to listen to for its own merits, and a person almost needs to keep an ear out for the quick guitar flourishes that remind everyone who exactly they’re listening to.
This song brings a different vibe that reminds me at points of Van Halen’s song Judgment Day from the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge record. It’s a very quick rocker that feels like it’s over almost as soon as it began, but with plenty going on for its duration. This closer keeps things fresh with its variety but also maintains the rocking mood of the EP.
The Better Days EP is another excellent offering from the duo of Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen. It’s great to have both a full album and this bonus recording from the group. Hopefully they will find time to do more in the future and perhaps have a gig or two. Time will tell, especially as Adrian’s day job is calling again. Whatever the future may hold, it’s nice to have some good rock music in 2021.