Cracker, ‘Berkeley to Bakersfield’ – Album Review
Since taking their first steps some 22 years ago, Cracker have always been smarter than your average band -- a nod and a wink, spitting sarcasm laced with sincerity in such songs as 'Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now),' 'Low,' and 'Euro Trash Girl.'
Following the collapse of his band Camper Van Beethoven as the'80s became the '90s, singer/guitarist David Lowery took a more streamlined approach with Cracker, which proved a good move at the time. Lowery had, and still has, a certain something in his vocal delivery that captures a world weary cynicism that still manages to brim with attitude and fire on the band's first new album in five years.
'Berkeley to Bakersfield' is not only a fine return, but over its two discs, Lowery and company manage to take the listener on a bit of a road trip. The idea here is to present two sides to the band in one sitting. Disc one represents the straight-ahead loose and ragged rock and roll side of the band, while the second disc finds them swimming in a genuine pool of old-school, classic country music. Fortunately, and not surprisingly, both sides of that coin show the band shining bright.
During the five years since Cracker's last album, Lowery reunited with Camper Van Beethoven for a pair of albums, 'La Costa Perdida' in 2013 and 'El Camino Real' from earlier this year. Perhaps the return to his own musical roots helped provide the inspiration for this new chapter for Cracker, which is truly full of life and spirit. (The two bands are currently touring a double-bill together.)
The first disc, 'Berkeley,' kicks off with the acoustic-based track, 'Torches and Pitchforks,' which almost serves as a sort ofoverture, if you will, to the entire album -- both musically and lyrically. Once things kick into gear with 'March of the Billionaires,' it's quite obvious that Cracker are back in full force! The soul-tinged rocker shows the band have lost none of their piss and vinegar along the way.
'Beautiful' should be a hit single, if there are such things as hit singles anymore; it certainly has all the markings of a Cracker classic. Elsewhere, songs like 'Life In the Big City,' 'Reaction' and 'You Got Yourself Into This' ring out with their signature style right up front.
As you pop in the second disc, 'Bakersfield,' you will notice a change in the air, as you suddenly tumble into Cracker's own take on that classic Bakersfield sound pioneered by the likes of Buck Owens. Tasty guitar licks and some sweet barroom piano make for a sweet ride.
Throughout 'Bakersfield,' the spirits of country music's past glories are highlighted, making not only for some great listening, but also a reminder of how modern "country" music has little connection to the emotional or spiritual significance of the real deal. This, however, most certainly does. 'Get On Down the Road' has an interesting Rolling Stones-filtered-country feel to it, while 'The San Bernadino Boy' is an all-out barn stormer.
For the 'Berkeley' disc, Lowery and co-founder, guitarist Johnny Hickman, brought in bassist Davey Faragher and drummer Michael Urbano from the original Cracker lineup for the first time in about 20 years to take part in the sessions. Judging form the end result, this proved to be a fantastic plan. And as for 'Bakersfield,' that particular end result is genuine and authentic, with Cracker sounding right at home. As opposed to other country music released this century, this stuff never comes off as cliche or contrived.
All in all, 'Berkeley to Bakersfield' marks a welcome return for Cracker. Where they go from here is anyone's guess -- but we will just say, it's good to have you back!