Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cracker Cuts Berkeley To Bakersfield

Cracker by Bradford Jones
Berkeley To Bakersfield overcomes some unevenness across 18 tracks as David Lowery splits the difference between creative tugs into equal parts. One side covers hedonism and hypocrisy, giving Cracker its historic alternative bite. The other side moves its country underpinnings into the foreground, making what would otherwise be called a standalone country album only one part to the whole.

Much like the album's title cities, Berkeley and Bakersfield don't have much in common other than existing in the same proximate space. Even the lineups are slightly different. The Berkeley half of the new album from Cracker sticks with the band's Kerosene Hat lineup with David Lowery, Johnny Hickman, Davey Faragher, and Michael Urbano. The Bakersfield half mixes in guest musicians that include the likes of the Matt "Pistol" Stoessel and Luke Moeller.

It's difficult to say which is better at points, even if Lowery puts more passion into the country side of the package. It's either that or perhaps the album merely hits upon the great divide between the pinch of urban living and possibilities of rural openness. It's almost hard to say.

Berkeley To Bakersfield splits its punk vibe with country roots. 

What isn't hard to say is that Lowery and company have become masters of writing and recording songs with little regard to who might listen to them. Don't get me wrong. It's not that Cracker produces music with a blatant disregard for its fans as much as its fans know they'll only produce music that they enjoy performing day in and day out.

CountryOutfitter.comAnd what makes Berkeley To Bakersfield so ineffable is, with the possible exception of Waited My Whole Life, that the underlying lyrics split right along with their respective styles. One is clearly more populist while the other is libertarian. The only tie that binds is how many are built on characters. 

El Cerrito, for example, was inspired by a taxi driver rant in San Francisco. There is Almond Grove guy behind second track on the Bakersfield side too. The album is loaded with them, different voices that complement and contradict each other while the band delivers them all faithfully with judgement. 

Highlights from the double album include the folk rock opener Torches and Pitchforks and punk-infused Beautiful on the Berkeley side, country-rock roamer Almond Grove and sentimental Where Have Those Days Gone. After pulling up those four, dig into the more polarizing moments delivered up by songs like March Of The Billionaires, which is semi-satirical stab at the super rich, and California Country Boy, which dispels the Golden State's stereotypes with pedal steel. 

The one track that lands in the middle is Waited My Whole Life. Not surprisingly, it originally started out as a Bakersfield track until the band shifted the instrumentals to have more soul. The resulting track seems to straddle the line as effortlessly as many California county borders do.

Through the entire double album, Cracker does what few bands could by running a gauntlet of topics, tones, and styles tied together by a couple of guys who have known each other for 35+ years. The effort makes the album a tribute to their respective influences and summarizes the band's illustrious career. 

Berkeley To Bakersfield By Cracker Crunches 7.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Alternative fans will find a few gems on the Berkeley side while the country crowd will have a slightly easier time on the Bakersfield side. But mostly, the people who will find real merit in the music are open-minded Cracker fans who have always appreciated the band's split punk-country sensibilities. 

You can find Berkeley to Bakersfield by Cracker on Amazon or download the double album (priced as a single album) from iTunes. You can also find Berkeley To Bakersfield and other releases at F.Y.E. Find out more about Cracker on Facebook.
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