Anyone wondering if this solo release from Chris Barron is a Spin Doctors album by another name will find the answer on the opening title track. The acoustic blues accented by a lovely mourning horn section is strikingly in contrast to the frontman’s early ‘90s work with the alternative rock Doctors. And much of the record follows in that living-room writing style, with the best of this 11-song set when Barron is singing close-mic and intimate.
A trio of cuts near the record’s conclusion- “Still A Beautiful World,” “The World Accordion to Garp,” and “Till the Cows Come Home,”- all having something to say (granted, sometimes sideways) and say it well, both lyrically and musically. From comments spiritual and secular to the standard, aching cries of love, the three are undressed in beautifully bare arrangements; carnival tuba, stand-up bass, and last-call piano providing the appropriate colors, guided by Barron’s voice, direct and pure.
The remainder of the collection harkens back more expectedly to the straight-ahead guitar-driven side of the Spins, not as funky as that band, but as aggressive, never more than on the album’s single, “April and May,” or on “Darken My Door,” whose chord progression seems to echo a bit of the Doctor’s “Freeway of the Plains.” There are also plenty of examples of Barron’s artistic idiosyncrasies throughout in both verse and vocal, whether the topic of zombie necro-love on “In a Cold Kind of Way,” ironically set against warm fingerstyle guitar, or the way the singer tends to mold the intonation of words to shape a melody, especially on “Raining Again.” The mid-tempo rocker that closes the set, “Too Young to Fade,” could easily be heard as autobiographical. With the meteoric rise of the Spin Doctors two decades ago that has dovetailed into a more modest and sporadic career, Chris Barron’s effort on Angels and One-Armed Jugglers shows not only is there plenty left for him to sing, but also some new ways for him to sing it.