By the time of Richie Kotzen's debut album in 1989, Mike Varney's Shrapnel label was cranking out young guitar virtuosos like an assembly line; it seemed like each week, a fresh-faced teenaged prodigy would emerge from the Shrapnel stable with a self-titled debut, backed up by an all-star rhythm section. Pennsylvania's Richie Kotzen was one of these. With bassist Stu Hamm and ex-Journey drummer Steve Smith behind him, he added yet another all-instrumental shred guitar album to Shrapnel's catalog. But, fortunately, he avoided many of the clichés that plagued many of his contemporaries. Rather than attempting wide-screen neo-classical melodrama, his style here is offbeat and humorous; witness the hilarious stop/start dynamics of "Unsafe at Any Speed," with its cartoonish scherzos and ridiculously over-the-top blasts of rapid-fire guitar fills. Kotzen obviously owes a debt to Steve Vai here, but adds his own quirks to the formula. The production assistance of labelmate Jason Becker also helps to distinguish Richie Kotzen from the other predictable-sounding stuff on the Shrapnel label; the record is mixed bone-dry instead of reverb-drenched, which adds a more personal charm to the proceedings. Both Kotzen's chops and tone would improve greatly over the next year or so, but this is an interesting entry in the genre nonetheless.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Andy Hinds