Best known as the frontman for the Spin Doctors who rose to fame in the earlier part of the 90s, Chris Barron is a gifted musician who has created a fantastic body of work with his new solo album Angels and One Armed Jugglers.
CHRIS BARRON RETURNS WITH ANGELS & ONE-ARMED JUGGLERS, RELEASED OCTOBER 20 ON CHRYSANTHEMUM RECORDS.
Acclaimed Spin Doctors frontman chases his muse across eleven ambitious solo tracks, backed by the cream of the New York music scene.
Los Angeles, CA — The zeitgeist is a moving target, and Chris Barron has always been a crack shot. The New York songwriter is no longer the debutant who set out on the circuit’s sharp end in 1988 with $100, a battered acoustic and a headful of the alt-rock anthems that would elevate Spin Doctors to global stardom. He’s a veteran approaching 50, living in a world changed beyond recognition, compelled to write the music that chronicles the here-and-now. As far back as he can remember, he’s had a hunger driving him onward, towards something just out of reach. In 2017, it propels him to Angels & One-Armed Jugglers (due out October 20 on Chrysanthemum Records), the culmination of a lifetime’s craft and a record both contemporary and classic.
Ask Barron for a pivotal moment from his journey and he’ll rewind the reels to a high-school music theory class, where a cherished teacher advised him to “learn the rules so that you can break them.” Almost four decades later, that same irreverent wisdom hangs over Angels & One-Armed Jugglers. In a cynical era of songwriting by committee, these eleven songs rip up the verse/chorus template, eschew the stock lyrical themes and crash thrillingly among genres, as this fascinating songwriter acts entirely on instinct. “I’ve taken stock of everything I’ve learned about music,” says Barron, “and I’ve got to a point now where I’m just following my nose. These songs range from old jazz standards to funky beer-hall folk tunes. But I’ve never really been that interested in genres. I’m just interested in songs. I think the reason it’s so eclectic is because the songs were chosen more thematically than based on genre.”
If the concept of Angels & One-Armed Jugglers began anywhere, it was born on the 59th Street Bridge, as Barron drove home from Queens. “I wrote that title track on the steering wheel,” he reflects. “With that first line — ‘Angels and one-armed jugglers, sword-swallowers and smugglers’ — I was thinking about this woman who once lived next door to me, this old chorus girl. She was in her 80s at the time, always plying me with limoncello, telling me great stories about Broadway in the ’40s. And I always find, if you fall in with the title early on, you start to make a record that’s very thematic. But then, weirdly enough, I had a paralyzed vocal cord and I lost my voice. So I’m the one-armed juggler. Art imitates life.
“I guess this record is like the tray of oysters on a side table of the soirée they throw the evening before the comet hits the earth,” Barron considers. “Y’know, thematically, it’s about the cocktail party at the apocalypse, the decline of the American empire and just a bunch of lemmings in neck-ties going over the edge. But it’s very personal, too, and there’s a lot of my own sadness in there. Anybody can see the world is a deeply unfair place. It’s the responsibility of the artist to give some kind of consolation. Yes, the world is fucked up. But there is still wonder. And there’s still a twist of comedy.”
When Barron returned from medical treatment to resume the project, he moved with all the urgency of a man sharply aware that life was short and health fragile. As it gathered pace, the album shifted shape and slipped categorization, evolving from the stripped-down solo acoustic approach that Barron had originally envisaged to the more ambitious production conceived by co-producer Roman Klun. All they needed now was the greatest studio band on earth. “So it was like, let’s get Shawn Pelton,” recalls Barron. “He’s iconic in the United States as the drummer for Saturday Night Live and a renowned studio drummer as well. Then I went to see Jesse Murphy play bass with Aaron Comess, the Spin Doctors’ drummer. You play music for 40 years, you only need one look to know: this motherfucker can play. I played all the songs into my iPhone and sent those guys the files. The two of them show up with these charts they’d drawn up, with all nuances of my playing, all the funky little fills. It was such a musical compliment. I can’t give enough credit to the players on this record.”