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.