By Rob Nichols
Listen your way through Gentlemen’s Blues from Cracker, and there is enough familiarity (ie Dylan-era Hammond B3’s and Ray Davies-sounding vocals) to make you keep going .
From the band that grew from the burned-out years of the band Camper Van Beethovan, leader David Lowery and his fulltime sidekicks Johnny Hickman and Bob Rupe (one of the founders of the band The Silos) have evolved from goofy early 1990’s alternative rock and roll into a band that echoes the Kinks. And Dylan. And alternative country bands consider Cracker an influence.
Gentleman’s Blues has an intelligence that is subtle and a sound that is homegrown. We hear intimate sounds, like pianos, buried steel guitar, handclaps and tambourines.
It makes the rock and roll band basics of guitars, snares and pumping bass sound, well, smarter. Lowery has always been a songwriter with a few lyrical quirks. Songs like “My Life Is Totally Boring Without You” and “I Want Out Of The Circus” are memorable for their titles alone. Much like the latest Grant Lee Buffalo release, this one gets better with repeated chances in the CD player.
Guests like Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, along with drummers Steve Jordan (Keith Richards X-Pensive Wino’s) and Phil Jones (played on nearly every track on Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever and on other Cracker releases) lend to the familiarity. Davey Faraghar (John Hiatt’s bass player and alum of earlier incarnations of Cracker) sings backup on six track.
Lowery’s voice and Hickman’s lyrics are the paste that holds the album together, through the circus flourishes (Out Of The Circus), country rock romps (The Good Life) and Todd Snider-ish gospel songs (Hallelujah). The album contains tiny pleasurable flourishes, like the “Soul Man” riff on the song “Seven Days”. It is a album of unexpected hooks.
If music and artistry was a competition, these boys have now recorded an album better, deeper and smarter than the latest from Sister Hazel, Matchbox20 and Hootie and the Blowfish. For whatever that’s worth. Same music genre, but more hidden fun.