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Spin Doctors - If The River Was Whiskey (Album Review)

Tuesday, 16 April 2013 Written by Graeme Marsh

You can be forgiven for remembering Spin Doctors as one-hit wonders, with their vastly overplayed radio friendly 1993 number 3 UK chart hit 'Two Princes' being the song in question; some may also recall the only other single to trouble the upper echelons of the singles chart, 'Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong'. 

Both of these tracks were taken from the bands debut album, 'Pocketful Of Kryptonite', which peaked at 2 in the album chart and sold over 10 million copies worldwide.  In actual fact the band are indeed still churning out original material, with 'If The River Was Whiskey' being the New York rockers 6th studio album.

Starting life as Trucking Company and plying their trade around their home city, the band soon evolved into the classic and present day line-up, consisting of Chris Barron (vocals), Eric Schenkman (guitars), Aaron Corness (drums) and Mark White (bass). The quartet then worked the circuit of New York’s downtown blues bars as they found their feet and developed a solid following, with live shows often turning into fully blown blues jamming sessions, primarily settling on this type of music as a means to an end as the venues demanded this style.

All of this will come as a surprise to the majority of the public that only remember the early 90’s hits, and the band have now gone full circle and returned to their roots to release a pure blues album which includes both recently penned tracks as well as songs Barron had written over 20 years ago.

Completely recorded live – and as demos at that, the tracks thought to be strong enough in their originally recorded format – the album opens with 'Some Other Man Instead', a stonewall blues classic sound built around a simple guitar riff and slow drumbeat telling a characteristic ‘oh woe is me’ story like most good blues music, also containing a suitably impressive guitar solo.

The title track follows, sounding far more upbeat but dangerously close to the music you would expect to hear from a wedding or Christmas function band, albeit with more impressive guitar work than you are likely to see your elderly family members pulling awkward and embarrassing shapes to at any time in the future.

'Sweetest Portion', written by Barron when he was just 19 slows the pace right back down again before 'Traction Blues' begins with another classic blues riff that you could easily imagine hearing on an Eric Clapton album; the guitar soloing is particularly strong on this track but gets even better on the next song, 'Scotch and Water Blues', which is possibly Schenkman’s finest hour. This is a slow, moody burner with guitaring that actually sings, an achievement that only the very best guitarists ever achieve.

'About A Train' treads a similar path with a midway break providing some respite from the continuous blues drenched onslaught, slowing down for a quiet passage before finishing with all cylinders firing once again.  Tempo increases for 'The Drop', again sounding like something a modern day blues master could have conjured up, although the song contains some unconvincing lyrics.

Occasionally Barron’s voice reminds a little of Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay, at least in style, and this is most prevalent on another fairly impressive blues chugger, the curiously titled 'Ben’s Looking Out The Window Blues'. 'So Bad' slows the pace down to a crawl with its gutter based guitar drool licking its way into proceedings once in a while until subdued soloing takes over before leading the track to Barren’s completion of the song with woeful wails of “he’s got a tattoo of an angel weeping in the rain”.

The album then closes with another upbeat number 'What My Love?' with the formula remaining unchanged.

Several factors play a part in the best blues records, namely distinctive and heartfelt vocals with sorrowful lyrics that listeners can relate to, coupled with efficient and occasionally supreme guitaring; there is evidence of these factors at points during the 43 minutes of 'If The River Was Whiskey' without overcooking any of the ingredients, although a deeper sounding vocal than Barron can offer undoubtedly adds an extra dimension to the blues. All in all this is a reasonably enjoyable blues romp that serves as a reminder that Spin Doctors are more than just one, or two, hit wonders.

'If The River Was Whiskey' is released in the UK on May 6th through Ruf Records.

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