The Spin Doctors have always been bluesy, which isn't the same thing as being a blues band. From the outset, they were a bar band that happily dabbled in blues-rock, hippie pop, elastic funk, and classic rock, anything that would satisfy a crowd, and that eagerness to please came through on their breakthrough 1991 debut, Pocket Full of Kryptonite. When the Spin Doctors were touring the 20th anniversary deluxe edition of the album, they discovered their fans wanted to hear the obscure, bluesier tunes in their repertoire, so they decided to do the only natural thing -- to record their first all-blues album. They holed up in drummer Aaron Comess' studio and quickly cut If the River Was Whiskey, a collection of original blues numbers that feels like an unapologetic throwback to classic Chess records from the '50s and '60s. That immediacy is striking, as the Spin Doctors have never sounded so alive on record, nor have they demonstrated such muscular chops. Comess and bassist Mark White lay down thick, fluid grooves that give guitarist Eric Schenkman plenty of room to spill out solos, while, at his best, vocalist Chris Barron's phrasing can recall the languid, laconic drawl of Levon Helm. But for as much as the Spin Doctors recall certain parts of the past or certain idols, this is neither an homage nor mimicry: instead, they've dug into the DNA of the band and reworked it, revealing the blues band that lies at their core. The result is shockingly satisfying: the Spin Doctors have never sounded as relaxed, as loud, or as good as they do on If the River Was Whiskey.
If the River Was Whiskey Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine