Arriving 22 years after the Spin Doctors’ mega-sellingPocket Full of Kryptonite, If the River Was Whiskey benefits from a raw, un-slick feel that is reminiscent of the band’s pre-fame bar-band days.
It’s clear that Chris Barron & Co. realized it’s time to visit their old blues-rock turf simply for fun. The album—the band’s first since 2005—opens with the heavy thump and sludgy crunch of “Some Other Man Instead,” which feels decidedly more like The Black Crowes than pop-radio Spin Doctors. The title track, all dirtied-up boogie blues, has Barron’s shaggy-dog vocals fitting as comfortably as ever in the rhythm pocket created by guitarist Eric Schenkman, drummer Aaron Comess and bassist Mark White.
The other eight tracks don’t stray too far stylistically—Schenkman digs deep and pulls out some six-string gems on the laidback “Scotch and Water Blues” and “Ben’s Looking Out the Window Blues.” Elsewhere, Barron plays it loose, drawling and running words together. Maybe this back-to-basics formula will finally revive the band’s fortunes.