Cracker – Berkeley to Bakersfield (2014)

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Locals will tell you that Berkeley and Bakersfield are less than five hours apart. Still, there’s always been little to link the two — until now. With the forthcoming Berkeley to Bakersfield, you’ll find Cracker happily traversing the road in between.

Of course, Cracker always stood with a foot in each one of these California music beds, blending the dusty whine of Buck Owens with the punky attitude of the East Bay area. But their radio songs didn’t necessarily underscore that tendency, and certainly not to the degree that Cracker’s new two-disc project does.

Divided into Berkeley and Bakersfield sides and due on December 9, 2014 via 429 Records, the album makes a point of fully exploring the twinned inspirations that drove David Lowery and Johnny Hickman. They even reconvening the original Cracker lineup for the first time in decades to complete the Berkeley disc. As expected, that side — which features shared band credits on eight of the nine tracks — is dominated by garage funk, and a more political edge. But there was always something more to Cracker, as gorgeously enunciated on the Bakersfield disc.

The results are easily the most complete statement of purpose from Cracker since 1993’s Kerosene Hat, which spawned the memorable hit “Low” but also the twangy “Lonesome Johnny Blues.” “Waited My Whole Life,” this album’s advance single, smartly bridges the two sides.

Interestingly, Berkeley to Bakersfield actually grew out of a period apart for Lowery and Hickman. In the five years time since Cracker’s Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey, Hickman has worked with Jim Dalton while Lowery returned to his pre-Cracker outfit Camper Van Beethoven. Clearly, the time away sparked something.

So did working with former members Davey Faragher and Michael Urbano again. They began with a few tour dates, then ultimately collaborated extensively on Berkeley; Faragher returns to provide backing vocals on Bakersfield. (Bryan Howard and Sal Maida share bass duties on the latter.) Along the way, they complete a smart summation of what always made Cracker such an intriguing amalgam.

Part angsty alternative and part Mick Taylor-era Stones, they could also sound like the bastard love child of Jim Lauderdale and Levon Helm. That is to say, country but not shit-kicking country. This is country with real soul, in the manner of Porter Wagoner’s “Green, Green Grass of Home” — as heard on the devastatingly sad “Almond Grove.” Couple it with the tough attitude of Berkeley, and you get closer to solving the riddle — the gloriously weird, utterly unique riddle — that has always been Cracker.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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