When Cracker rose from the ashes of Camper Van Beethoven with the release of Cracker Brand in 1992, people could be excused for expecting more off the wall wackiness from David Lowery, the man who gave the world “Take the Skinheads Bowling.” By the time of the release of Kerosene Hat in 1993 — with its maddeningly catchy hit, “Low” — those “in the know” had labeled the band as sellouts (an issue amusingly addressed by Lowery on “Get Off This”). The reasons seemed apparent enough. First off, the band had the audacity to write a song about themselves (“Cracker Soul”) on their debut album — not cool. Secondly, they didn’t mind sounding like Led Zeppelin — check out “Sweet Potato” from Kerosene Hat — hell, they even appeared on a Zeppelin tribute. Tsk tsk — dinosaur worship is not allowed, don’t ‘cha know? To add insult to indie injury, they had a hit with “Low,” appearing on radio stations above and beyond those located on college campuses, and even had a video in rotation on MTV. Lowery and cohort Johnny Hickman were in peril of losing their struggling artist membership cards. Finally, they weren’t Camper, and many have never forgiven them for not carrying the torch.
Well, with the release of Garage D’Or, a retrospective of the first decade of “Cracker Soul,” we can now sit back and laugh heartily at the naysayers, because in the record’s 28 tracks lies an elemental truth — Cracker is a damn fine band, approaching greatness at times, never less than purely entertaining. Lowery seems to approach life with a sardonic, Kerouac-like beatness that examines the world from the dusty side of the road, finding humor and compassion in the strangest places. Married to a more “rock” backbone than Camper, Lowery and Hickman (and a revolving cast of drummers and bassists) create music that is intricately danceable — not an easy feat. Listen to the “wall of sound” guitars of “Low” or the country honk lines that Johnny Hickman seems to be able to drop into a piece at will. Greatness, I tell you!
This set includes live material from over the years, hard to find items from soundtracks such as Clueless (a cover of the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Shake Some Action”), and three new songs, including “Eyes Of Mary,” featuring Mark Linkous of the brilliant Sparklehorse — Cracker recorded “Sick Of Goodbyes” a few years back, it reappeared on Sparklehorse’s Good Morning Spider. Granted, the world should be spared Cracker’s reading of “Rainy Days and Mondays” from the Carpenters tribute, and longtime fans will quibble at the songs not included, but all in all, this is a great set of material from the dark horse of American rock, and one of the scene’s better songwriters. Just take those “indie-cred” earmuffs off for a time and listen. You might be surprised at how damn good these guys are.