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Music Review: Spin Doctors – If The River Was Whiskey

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After some 25 years playing together, the Spin Doctors know who they are and what they do best, and so do their fans: low-down, whiskey-soaked blues punctuated with wicked guitar licks. If this is what you want from the band, this is what you get on their new album If The River Was Whiskey.

Vocalist Chris Barron explains to USA Today that the idea for a blues album originated last year while the band was touring Europe in support of the 20th anniversary of their classic Pocket Full of Kryptonite. “When we asked fans … which tunes they wanted to hear, to our surprise, they wanted to hear the old blues stuff.

“Well … we had such a good time playing it, and it sounded so good, that we toyed around with the idea of making a blues record.” The blues, he points out, is the “roots of all that we do.” Although, as guitarist Eric Schenkman adds, the band “got known for a rock/pop record,” they were originally a blues band. Drummer Aaron Comess drives the point home: “Our brand of rock and roll stems directly from the blues and funk.” Bassist Mark White, he continues, “grew up playing funk … so the blues was like a close stepbrother to him.”

This past summer, they went into the studio and If The River Was Whiskey is the result—10 original booze-drenched tracks, some new, and some that have been around for awhile, but all played the way Comess says the blues should be played: “To play the blues you must understand the language but more importantly play honest, truthful music from the heart.”

For the most part, except perhaps for what might seem like the overly clever lyrics of songs like “About a Train” and perhaps “Traction Blues,” truthful and honest are undoubtedly apt descriptors for the songs on the album. Most of them—“Sweetest Portion,” “Some Other Man Instead,” “Scotch and Water Blues,” and the title song itself—could well have found a home on a Muddy Waters album. These are old school blues played with authority and respect.

But even more importantly, the guys in the band are clearly enjoying themselves, and their joy is contagious. The thing to do is get yourself a shot or two and catch the joy. And remember, “If the blues was whiskey, we would be drunk all the time.”

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About Jack Goodstein

  • A musical reminder of my college days. Nice to have them back.