Spin Doctors – If The River Was Whiskey (2013)
I was a big lover of the Spin Doctors back in the summer of 1992 when tracks from their début album became amongst the the most played hits of that year and was completely won over by their sound, musicianship and energy. Unfortunately, nothing after that album seemed to be quite as good and they faded from the spotlight quickly, despite still releasing quite a few albums over the years and, pretty much, only hardcore fans stuck with them. I’d love to say that I was one of those people, but I wasn’t. However, when I heard that they were back in the UK this year and were going to perform “Pocket Full Of Kryptonite” in its entirety, I couldn’t resist going to re-live the nostalgia of that album and, with a friend, travelled to Reading on a extremely cold February day to watch them perform that evening. After watching their superb live show, I would have been entirely within my rights to have been annoyed with them, because they didn’t perform their first album in its entirety as the promotional material said they would (just most of it), instead, they were eagerly plugging their new album which, at that point, hadn’t been released, and proceeded to play quite a bit from that one instead. Instead of being a bit miffed, I found that the new material was actually rather brilliant and came away with this album, freshly signed by the band, in my very cold hands, three months before the official release date.
If you’re looking for a similar album to “Pocket Full Of Kryptonite”, you’d best not buy this album, because you will be sorely disappointed. This is a nostalgia trip of sorts, but not for the reasons old fans who joined them during the era of “Two Princes” may want. When I caught them on their UK tour in February 2013, lead singer Chris Barron told audience the story behind this new album between the songs. “If The River Was Whiskey” harks back to the days prior to the Spin Doctors making it in the big time, when they were slaving away at blues clubs in New York. One particular joint required them to stick to a prescribed set list of certain blues artists’ work and, feeling stifled after plugging away at the greats of blues’ well-known and obscure tracks, they started to write their own hard blues tracks and sneak them into the set list. Over time, these original Spin Doctors songs became favourites with the crowd and soon they were doing entire sets of their own material. It was at this point they came clean with their appreciative audience, once they had won themselves some ardent fans. This album is full of these tracks from the early days.
Of course, I’m not suggesting for a moment that you shouldn’t buy this album, quite the opposite, in fact. I just want to let people know that you’re not exactly going to get “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” or “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” if you exchange your hard-earned cash for it. This album is full of hard blues tracks, gritty solos and more than a little hint of funk. Despite the high quality of musicianship, it’s not a piece of work designed for introspective chin-stroking blues snobs, either. This is crammed with ballsy, sweaty, energetic, authentic rockers, with more infectious riffs than you could shake a stick of Kryptonite at. These are songs you can easily imagine thrilling a packed out, boiling hot, Big Apple blues club and these high-octane blues numbers certainly created an electric atmosphere in the venue I saw the Spin Doctors blow the crowd away, back in February.
My personal picks from the album are the jaunty title track, “Traction Blues”, which combines a superb riff, great lyrics, a storming guitar solo and a brilliant up-tempo beat, the soulful “About A Train”, “The Drop” a superb performance which showcases the fluid, muscular musicianship of the band and the excellent introduction to the album, “Some Other Man Instead”. The rest of the album isn’t exactly filler, either. This isn’t the sound of a band trying something different, this is the sound of a band who have rediscovered what it was that made them the brilliant band they were – and are. Rarely have they sounded so fresh, unforced and natural on record and hearing the band like this is an unashamed pleasure. It’s like we finally get to see the real band… and that’s not in any way derogatory to their back catalogue, they’ve written and released some fantastic work, but this is surely the most alive I’ve ever heard them sound and I can’t recommend this album highly enough. Drink it up.