A Blues Album.
Released: April 30, 2013
Label: Ruf Records.
The Spin Doctors started out as a bar band, a bunch of twenty something jammers with nothing for money, but a wealth of songs in their heads. Forever keeping the party alive, they mixed rhythms of creative funk, classic rock and edgy pop. While many bar bands were cranking out covers, early Spin Doc performances were filled with original music that took risks.
In the 1990's, with the debut of their smash hit album, Pocket Full of Kryptonite, the Spin Docs were all over the radio.The impact of their songs carved out a self-defined sound. No one sat around analyzing a Spin Doctor song, you just danced, strutted and belted it out. "Jimmy Olsen's Blues" "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" and "Two Princes" were the stand outs, selling millions of records and climbing the Billboard charts. They proliferated MTV, which created world wide success. And these songs will continue to define music genres of creative, artist original radio in our time.
The core Spin Doc fans know that, as a jam band, some of their lesser known songs were packed with dig-gable blues nuggets. If you explore deep into the Spin Doctors' catalog, you'll hear their more obscure songs have blues influenced roots. Guitarist Erik Schenkman wails on "Refrigerator Car" and there are many a solo on even their lesser known albums that feature some great blues jams from the whole band. The (2005) Nice Talking To Me album, turned out to be a return to the blues rock that got the Spin Docs started in the first place, but with more muscle to approach an equal footing to Kryptonite. The Spin Doctors are telling us now, that If The River Was Whiskey is the album they've always wanted to create.
I caught their 20th Anniversary show at Pearl Street last year (2012). What a blast. When Chris Barron announced that they were making their first blues record, after the show, I asked him if I could review it. He said, "We have to record it first!" Little Miss Lois Lane would have to wait - and for good reason. Original song writing can't be rushed, but great song writers either have it or they don't.
Once the Spin Docs got down to business, they cranked out a record which other critics have said is in the iconic style of the 1950-1960's Chess Productions. Recorded in drummer, Aaron Comess' studio, If The River Was Whiskey is definitely blues, but they've doctored the spin indeed. This record is blues- Spin Doctors' style. I think the sound is more like contemporary blues artists. Better yet, the Spin Docs have created a blues sound that comes from their own DNA, no copy cats or covers, that's how they've always been.
Chris Barron's voice is really like no other, whatever he sings, has a signature tone. His voice is warmer and smoother than many blues artists. There's no Delta grit like Son House or Muddy Waters, but Barron's got a moan that speaks to the aching heart, which calls up a response from Schenkman's guitar.
Mark White on bass brings it on home with some blues basslines that turned funkadelic on a dime. Aaron Comess dreams up some very traditional fife and drum sounds, blended with 'on the spot' change-ups, that are often required to keep up with blues gigs.
And Erik Schenkman - let me talk a moment about the live show - seeing him live gave immediate evidence of his absolutely throw down talent in defining blues. He cranked out dirty blues riffs, soaring slides and vamped up solos that blew the roof off the room. Like a genie in a bottle, these great guitar performances were somehow captured in this debut blues record and to hear that all released was really exciting. This is one of those records that you can't wait to tear open and sail it into your music player. It delivers exactly what you would imagine the Spin Doctors would be able to create, when targeting their focus on a blues production.
Meet The Spin Doctors:
Chris Barron - Vocals
Erik Schenkman - Guitar
Mark White - Bass
Aaron Comess - Drums
Track By Track:
1. Some Other Man Instead- Spin Doctors / Arne Hovda / Erik Norvald Røe
Aaron Comess starts off the track with a civil war type of marching beat. Loud and proud comes Schenkman's guitar, with a rhythm bass from Mark White that sometimes hangs like a reggae vibe over the whole song. 'Going down to New Orleans,' bellows out of Chris Barron's vocals, steady and in command of this opening track.
2. If the River Was Whiskey- Spin Doctors / Spin Doctors
Mark White's funk goes blues dirty, and Schenkman's guitar brings on some rhythm and slides for a throwback tone to this title track. The no-overdub production adds interest to the album, as you can hear little comments that Chris Barron make to the band and the sound is great, like you're right there in the room.
3. Sweetest Portion- Spin Doctors / Spin Doctors
Chris Barron takes on a blues ballad that is sweet and inviting. Front porch slow is this mellow tune with some tempered phrases. But if the Spin Docs are going to craft a relaxed song, as expected, it is still bold with signature twangs from the guitar and drums.
4. Traction Blues- Spin Doctors / Spin Doctors
A rockin, rollicking blast of good ole Spin Doc slam jam is what I'll say about this. Blues rock, with a running guitar that takes off like a train in Spin Doctor style. Great tune.
5. Scotch and Water Blues / Spin Doctors / Spin Doctors
Cabaret, lounge lizards we become in listening to this alligator wine style of blues. Subtle and sultry, with some very cool slide work, and timing like a metronome from the percussion team. Barron shows vocal control and weaves between the phrasing with precision. This is where experience with live performance and song writing comes in. You hear it.
6. About a Train / Spin Doctors / Spin Doctors
Most blues records have songs about a train. A train kept a rollin, through many a rock and roll station in my life time. This one picks up and chugs along, building interest as it goes. It's fun and changes with every metaphorical idea that the song brings. Did I hear a whistle blow? All aboard!
7. The Drop / Spin Doctors / Spin Doctors
This is all out lean, mean, classic blues rock and roll. A full force attack of guitar hooks, funk inspired bass and discriminating drum effects. Barron is on cue with allowing space for Schenkman to crank out his best solos, without being overindulgent. The whole feel of this album is relaxed and confident. The Spin Docs are solid on every track.
8. Ben's Looking Out the Window Blues / Spin Doctors / Spin Doctors
The moral of the story? Accept who you are and dig it because you're all you've got. "Part of the problem is, the answer is a cure ..." "If it's a day gone by, then it's 365" The Spin Doctors inspire toe tappin freedom of expression. Take it!
9. So Bad / Spin Doctors / Spin Doctors
Snake charmers the Doctors become with this slithering ballad "Texas Flood" style. They've gone back to their blues inspirations and really bring it on home with this record.
10. What My Love / Spin Doctors / Spin Doctors
Bright and fun, with crystal clean notes that can be heard, great backbeat bass and rhythms, march this last track along. Chris Barron leads the party, gives on point vocals and then gets out of the way, commenting to Schenkman in an improv call-response exchange. Classic jump blues rockin the house!
The title of the album is the same title as an ole time country blues song from Charlie Poole, If The River Was Whiskey. There is also a book of American Contemporary Fiction from T. C. Boyle named If The River Was Whiskey. The book description states this:
"Boyle introduces us to a death-defying stuntman who rides across the country strapped to the axle of a Peterbilt, and to a retired primatologist who can't adjust to the 'civilized' world."
I can't imagine a more perfect metaphor for this new endeavor with the Spin Doctors. Chris Barron, always willing to portray the death-defying stuntman, especially on stage, is the most fearless leader. At Pearl Street, during the live show, the man hung from any microphone stand, bungee chord and audience nerve all night. Their song writing is fearless too. Band members, Erik Schenkman, Mark White, and Aaron Comess, are forever collecting relics of great music and changing listening history with their knowledge. This is their 6th studio album and they are just getting started.