Spin Doctors

If the River Was Whiskey


spindoctorsForget the kryptonite — Spin Doctors have scored a pocket full of blues.

During the U.K. run of the “Pocket Full of Kryptonite” 20th-anniversary tour in 2011, the blues-rock-pop band resurrected three original blues songs from early in their career. The group and their fans enjoyed them so much, more were broken out for the U.S. and European tours later that year and in 2012. Ultimately those and other reincarnated tunes from the band’s New York City blues-bar beginnings comprised a self-produced album that was recorded last summer, made available at shows during this year’s U.K./Spain tour, and is just now seeing an official release.

“Whiskey” consists of five previously unrecorded/unreleased songs; three rerecorded and rearranged songs (two of which were previously available on 1994 maxi CD singles and one that had surfaced on 1996′s “You’ve Got to Believe in Something”); plus two brand-new songs.

In an interview from January 2012 on the Facebook profile for fan site Spin Doctors Archive, drummer Aaron Comess offers some backstory: “We have a whole repertoire of blues songs that we used to play. Right around the same time that we were writing all these songs for PFOK playing around in NYC, we used to play some blues clubs in New York. So in order to get the gigs, we had to have blues songs. So we wrote a bunch of original blues songs.”

He adds: “The roots we have are in blues music. But the reason we did it was because we wanted to make some money. There were two clubs in NYC called Mondo Cane and Mondo Perso and those were two of the only places where they actually paid you a guarantee while most of the other clubs paid you a cut of the door money. And if you don’t have a lot of fans yet, you weren’t meant to get a lot of a cut from the door. So everybody wanted to play these places, ’cause you could even go on on a weeknight and you could make 250 bucks, on a weekend you could make 500 bucks. And when you’re 20 years old and a struggling musician, that’s a lot of money! So we basically put together a blues demo and gave it to the guy and just kind of pretended we were a blues band.”

Casual fans might be surprised to learn that these killer tracks are all rough cuts, recorded over a three-day period at Comess’ home studio. “By the third day,” reflects singer Chris Barron in the album’s press release, “we’d recorded all 10 of the demos. We went out to dinner that night, we were all having a cocktail, and someone was like, ‘Gentlemen, I believe our demo is a record.’ And we all just laughed.”

So for now, at least, Spin Doctors have come full circle.

P.S. Those wanting to hear what they sound like in concert these days are advised to check out this free late-night performance they gave on the day the album recording session was finished.gnm_end_bug

1. Some Other Man Instead
2. If The River Was Whiskey
3. Sweetest Portion
4. Traction Blues
5. Scotch And Water Blues
6. About A Train
7. The Drop
8. Ben’s Looking Out The Window blues
9. So Bad
10. What My Love?

Total time: 42:23

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Robert “Top” Thomas

The Town Crier


thomasTake the riff from ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” add a solo vaguely reminiscent of Steve Howe’s from “All Good People” by Yes, and finish it off with an outro possibly inspired by Wings’ “Helen Wheels.” As incongruous as that might seem, it all works on the outrageous opening track from Florida swamp blues master Thomas’ solo debut.

Thank goodness for small regional labels that release hard-to-find music such as this. Bassist, producer and songwriter Stephen Dees explains how he, his wife and an up-and-coming blues pianist founded WildRoots:

“Patti and I met Victor (Wainwright, WildRoots’ first artist) at a charity benefit performance that we were both playing at in Ormond Beach, Fla.,” Dees told Good New Music by e-mail. “We both dug each other’s music. Eventually Victor asked me if I would co-write with him and produce his album. … We all decided that the best way to put out quality records would be to have our own label.”

Dees’ credentials include playing bass for Hall and Oates in the ’70s; forming Novo Combo with Michael Shrieve (Santana, Journey) in the ’80s; touring with Foghat in the ’90s; and working with his wife as The Bandees in the 2000s.

But back to Thomas: “I’ve known Robert for a long while,” Dees told GNM. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with him many times. What we love the most about ‘Top’ is that he’s the real deal — a genuine bluesman. So when it came down to signing our first act other than Victor Wainwright and the WildRoots, it was an easy choice to go with ‘The Town Crier.’ ”

“Mississippi Quickie” and the title track are remakes of tunes recorded in the ’90s by Thomas’ old blues band SmokeHouse, but Dees confided to GNM that he played them with Thomas in other bands before Thomas recorded them with SmokeHouse.

“Blues Grass” homes in on the Delta side of Thomas’ sound, and features some of his tasty electric slide-guitar work. Written by Dees and Wainwright, it originally appeared on Wainwright’s 2009 album, “Beale Street to the Bayou.”

Thomas pays tribute to mentor Lazy Lester by covering the harmonica player’s 1963 Excello B-side, “The Same Thing Could Happen to You,” right down to the Louisiana drawl.

“King Snake Crawl,” a Thomas co-write with Dees, eulogizes Bob “The Midnight Creeper” Greenlee and other artists who recorded for King Snake Records — a Florida-based independent blues label started by Greenlee — whose roster included Rufus Thomas, Lucky Peterson, Kenny Neal, Noble “Thin Man” Watts, Root Boy Slim and SmokeHouse.

Other highlights include the raucous instrumental “YeeHaw Junction”; the acoustic “I’m a Freight Train,” featuring guitar wunderkind Damon Fowler on dobro; and “It Ain’t Easy,” with its gospel-tinged ending featuring the WildRoots Choir.gnm_end_bug

1. Mississippi Quickie
2. Blues Grass
3. The Same Thing Could Happen to You
4. Lazy Little Daisy
5. King Snake Crawl
6. Bad Seed
7. What’s the Matter Ma
8. Sugar Shop
9. YeeHaw Junction
10. I’m a Freight Train
11. Daddy’s Gone
12. The Town Crier
13. It Aint Easy

Total time: 43:23

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Jason Freeman

Hex & Hell

BR2 Music Publishing

freemanFreeman, who also is a member of Memphis pre-World War II blues cover band Bluff City Backsliders, plugs in for his first solo effort — a wild mélange of Texas boogie; Louisiana swamp; Mississippi Delta and hill-country blues; and Sun Studio-style rockabilly.

And he’s no stranger to that last subgenre, either, working as a Sun Studio tour guide by day. “Working at Sun Studio has expanded my view of the role Memphis has played throughout history,” Freeman says in his bio on the website for “$5 Cover Amplified,” a package of 12 online documentaries produced as a complement to Craig Brewer’s 2009 musical drama series for MTV, “$5 Cover.” “I think that’s helped me raise the bar as to what I’m doing, knowing I’m representing a brand that’s known all over the world. In my own humble way, I’m a representative of that tradition.”

In fact, “Hex & Hell,” a collection of 10 Freeman originals, is the first release on filmmaker Brewer’s new record label. Freeman has a song featured in all of Brewer’s films — ”The Poor & Hungry,” “Hustle & Flow,” “Black Snake Moan” and “Footloose” — and taught Samuel L. Jackson how to play slide guitar for “Black Snake Moan.”

If one had to draw a voice comparison, fellow slide guitarist Roy Rogers might come to mind. But it’s Freeman’s gutsy slide that’s in the spotlight here, presented in a variety of styles and tones, backed by just bass and drums on most tracks.

For variety’s sake, three tracks enjoy expanded instrumentation. “Florida Watah,” the title track and “Love Baby” add organ, violin/violin/cello and saxophone, respectively — all to great effect.gnm_end_bug

1. Dirty Heart
2. Florida Watah
3. Help Me
4. Hex & Hell
5. Love Baby
6. Magic In My Home
7. (Do The) Rump
8. Memphis Bridge
9. Teasin’ Me
10. The Beginning Of …

Total time: 35:26

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The Stone Foxes

Small Fires


stonefoxes2The Stone Foxes refined their San Francisco blues-rock sound over two albums (three if you count “Black Rolling Thunder,” a CD-R they made for friends in 2006 whose title track was reprised on their self-titled official debut in 2008). After 2010′s “Bears & Bulls,” the group lost second guitarist Avi Vinocur, added keyboardist Elliott Peltzman and decided it was time to experiment. The quartet focused on lyrics, abandoned their Fox Den garage studio in favor of a real one and brought in Doug Boehm (Dr. Dog, Drive-By Truckers) to engineer and help produce.

“Small Fires” was funded partly by fans through PledgeMusic, allowing the band to preserve their artistic integrity. They booked The Carriage House in Los Angeles for 12 days and recorded a song per day (no confirmed plans yet for the two outtakes).

Opening track “Everybody Knows” might indicate a penchant for murder ballads, as it’s based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” and follows “I Killed Robert Johnson” from the last album. Drummer Shannon Koehler’s harmonica provides well-placed contrast and a couple of mini-solos.

“Ulysses Jones,” about a man who doesn’t want to lose his home to foreclosure without a fight, gives the first real taste of Peltzman’s formidable prowess on the Fender Rhodes, while the Wilco-like “So Much Better” showcases his organ work as well as Shannon’s brother Spence’s intense electric and acoustic guitar stylings.

Other highlights are the mysterious “Cold Wind,” about crack-toothed Jimmy and his unwillingness to take ownership of his blunders; “Talk to Louise,” possibly the only song to pay homage to The Band and the Rolling Stones simultaneously; the American Indian-sounding “Jump in the Water,” featuring killer bass from Aaron Mort; and “Goodnight Moon,” the lone track that proves the Stone Foxes haven’t lost their country credentials.gnm_end_bug

1. Everybody Knows
2. Ulysses Jones
3. So Much Better
4. Cotto
5. Small Fires
6. Battles, Blades & Bones
7. Cold Wind
8. Talk To Louise
9. Jump In The Water
10. Goodnight Moon

Total time: 39:27

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Camper Van Beethoven

La Costa Perdida

429 Records

That’s right, a new release from CVB — seven years after the previous “New Roman Times,” 22 after that one’s predecessor “Key Lime Pie.” And this time they’re in a laid-back yet playful mood.

That’s because whereas the last one was a politically philosophical concept album, this one’s a Northern California-themed long player that wistfully looks back on youthful surfer hippie days growing up on the coast.

Offbeat and all over the map as ever, the exhilaration begins with the mandolin-graced litany of old girlfriend names that is Come Down the Coast: Esmerelda, Gabriella, Isabella; Josephina, Magdalena, Rosalinda; even Valentina.

The rocking Too High for the Love-In recalls the group’s best album, “Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart,” right down to the nearly nonsensical lyrics, Balkan folk rhythms and midpoint tempo change. Kicking it up a notch are the interwoven surf guitar licks.

You Got to Roll alternates between blues and alt rock, but also between sexual innuendo and straightforward suggestion.

And on a roll they are, as slide guitar and violin unite for the psychedelic waltz Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out, followed by the left turn of Peaches in the Summertime, a ska-punk revision of the traditional Appalachian tune “Shady Grove.”

It’s not hard to imagine the disc’s centerpiece, the “Holland”-era Beach Boys-inspired Northern California Girls, as an innocently delirious composition by Brian Wilson in answer to his own “California Girls.”

The stream-of-consciousness lyrics of the dirgelike Summer Days long for bygone if monotonous carefree times.

Then there’s the title track, which translates as The Lost Coast, a narcocorrido-style number that still manages to retain a hint of the band’s trademark southeastern Europe motif, set to perhaps David Lowery’s most smart-aleck lyrics of the bunch. Throw in Aged in Wood, a one-minute instrumental nod to “Smile”-era Beach Boys (think “Workshop” but with wood-based sound effects of a different variety) before taking a romantic walk along the shore with the string-sweetened A Love for All Time and that’s a wrap for another work of art from conventionally unconventional Camper Van Beethoven.

1. Come Down The Coast
2. Too High For The Love-In
3. You Got To Roll
4. Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out
5. Peaches In The Summertime
6. Northern California Girls
7. Summer Days
8. La Costa Perdida
9. Aged In Wood
10. A Love For All Time

Total time: 43:04

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