Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Cracker - Berkeley to Bakersfield - Where Gold Can Still Be Found

Cracker has never sounded better, cooler, more vital - or more important. In a time in which many acts weigh the option of recording new material at all, Cracker releases a double album featuring two sides of the band that stands proudly next to anything in their catalog. Disc one presents the band's rock roots, disc two is a Cracker twist on country music, but it's all just Cracker soul.

Cracker soul - I caught a case way back in '92. It came when I saw that Jim Keltner had played on a few tracks on a band's first album, so I figured that if one of the world's great drummers saw fit, it was probably something I should check out. Sure enough, it was a sublime stew of rock, roots, country, and yes, their own inimitable Cracker soul. This double disc package is chock full of it. Get some.

Photo By Bradford Jones
Berkeley To Bakersfield is a best of both worlds package - fans of Cracker's brash rock with an attitude will love the Berkeley side of things that sees the band's original lineup back together and blasting with great verve and panache. Fans of the band's alt-country side will adore their Bakersfield based disc two, but in any reality true music fans will love both, and at the end of the day this is one of the high points of the band's long career. David Lowery proves that he's not spending all of his time with his well waged war against the inequity of artist payments in the digital age, he's writing like a man afire, having put out in quick succession a spate of records under his own name, the Camper Van Beethoven moniker, and now this. No other writer of his era has been so consistently on point, and his sidekick, co-writer, and guitarist Johnny Hickman is razor sharp across the whole of this massive achievement. Cracker may be to California rock in 2014 what The Beach Boys and The Doors were in the sixties - definitive.

BERKELEY to Bakersfield is disc one, and it does exactly what it promises - it rocks. David Lowery is a songwriting machine - he cranks out great rock like Hunter S. Thompson cranked out his gonzo journalism in the last century - the minute he's done, you want to hear what he's doing next.  Hickman sounds like he's been woodshedding with every great rock record you can remember - I hear Flamin' Groovies, Beatles, Bowie, Motown, Cropper, Yardbirds, a nice bit of funky soul, I hear lots of great inspiration twisted into riff after riff of new material that evokes a time without ever copping a lick. Bassist Davey Faragher looms large on this disc - his playing is solid, melodic, and moving and I'm reminded that I never hear enough of him, his bass playing, or his great background vocals. Track by track is not necessary here - every track is classic Cracker, and if you've ever loved a moment of this institution's music, you'll love this from beginning to end. Their first release from this was 'Waited My Whole Life', and it's probably the closest you'll hear to their 1992 debut, and in a damned good way, but the rest of the disc is fresh as a flower in the spring.

'California Country Boy' kicks off disc two (Berkeley to BAKERSFIELD), and it's one of Johnny Hickman's classic vocals. Hickman doesn't say much, but when he does it makes it all the more special, and my first thought is that if all country records sounded this great, and told this good of a story, we wouldn't be hating on country so hard these days. 'Going To The Almond Grove' is as good a song as David Lowery has ever written and sung - its a terribly sad tale that somehow still sounds somehow remotely hopeful, and so real that we just nod knowingly and soldier on, but with a smile that acknowledges that we're not alone in our own heads. The guitar signature on this one is sublime, married up against some soulful steel guitar from Pete "Pistol" Stoessel. This is definitely the country album of the year - Buck Owens is smiling from ear to ear up in heaven, and the passed greats are nodding in sincere appreciation. Lowery and Hickman obviously have a huge love for this music, and the homage they pay is divine - I'm constantly remind of the Stones forays into country, in which they consistently out-Nashvilled Nashville. Cracker kicks country ass, country sounds like it should, and when was the last time you could say that out loud.

Is this Cracker's best? Well, I'll leave that up to you to consider, but it's as good as anything they have ever released, and that is huge when you consider just how consistent the band has been up to now. They've never let down their guard, and they have always served the music and their fans like royalty, which they are. Buy this record, love this record, and you can thank me later, but first, God Bless Cracker - they earn it, give it, and we are the recipients of these gifts which are not small. I have no greater respect for any band on the planet.


Il Cavaliere said...

You're very lucky to have been able to hear this new double album. I am also a big fan of Lowery / Hickman who lives in Spain.

Thanks for shedding light on us. The wait is unbearable. Even more after reading you.

All the best from Spain

Anonymous said...

I saw the opening night of the tour in Tampa. They played 10 songs off of the new record, including opening with 3 from the Bakersfield section. I bought the disc at the show. Your review is dead on, great record and even better live. Do not miss this tour.

Anonymous said...

Two wurds, Hells Yeah!!