One Track Mind: Spin Doctors, “If The River Was Whiskey” (2013)

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The title track from If The River Was Whiskey, the first album of new material from 1990s radio-darlings the Spin Doctors since 2005, scuffs up the hitmaking formula for familiar songs like “Little Miss Can’t be Wrong” with a snarling city-blues vibe.

Chris Barron, typically seen as a happy-go-lucky sort before, offers a knife-edge vocal here, even as guitarist Eric Schenkman unleashes a series of grease-popping asides. Singing a heartbroken song of longing, complete with a hard-drinking title image, “If The River Was Whiskey” underscores a truism lost in the group’s neo-hippie platinum-selling heyday.

The Spin Doctors were always capable, as heard on deep cuts like “Shinbone Alley/Hard to Exist” from their 1991 debut smash A Pocket Full of Kryptonite, of this kind of portent-filled groove, this kind of thought-provoking lyric. It’s just that well-known efforts like “Two Princes” was all most people ever heard.

As drummer Aaron Comess and bassist Mark White hold down a withering cadence, the Spin Doctors again make good on that long-ago promise with this scalding blast of lonesome fury. “If The River Was Whiskey” cuts to the quick.

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