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Cracker / The Cracker Traveling Apothecary Show | Hello Cleveland! Live From the Metro / Flash Your Sirens (Cooking Vinyl / Pitch-A-Tent)
Recorded in Chicago in November '99 Cooking Vinyl's beautifully recorded live album was originally released as a limited edition with the import edition of the superb 'Forever' album. Now available as a stand alone document it captures the band in top form, (there's no doubt as to the quality of the playing involved particularly from John Hickman whose guitar playing blazes from the speakers), serving as a fine distillation of Cracker's back catalogue. While it shows their strengths with such gems as Big Dipper and The World is Mine - masterful slabs of Americana and deft, laconic songs that are uniquely David Lowery - there's also stuff like Lonesome Johnny Blues, strictly good time bar brawl country music of the type that dragged most of their albums from the exceptional into the ordinary. Classic radio broadcast fare then, although a questionable release given its previous 'freebie' status. Unique to this release, and tacked on as an additional incentive are four 'videos' for tracks from 'Forever'. Not so much performance videos as footage of the 'we've got a camera let's do something' school of film making. The trouble with material such as this is its built-in redundancy; just how many times are you going to sit like a lemon in front of your PC watching it? Perhaps some additional live tracks from the 'Forever' tour would have been preferable. The album closes with Pictures of Matchstick Men, harking back to the glory days of Camper Van Beethoven and, by their next tour, various ex-Campers had been brought in to the live band for the Cracker Traveling Apothecary Show. 'Flash Your Sirens', an internet-only release from Pitch-A-Tent, is a superb fifteen track album that perfectly captures the excitement of that tour. One can't help thinking that this is the live album Cooking Vinyl should have plumped for. Mixing Cracker and CVB material and with the expected superb playing throughout, - in particular the masterful violin work of Jonathan Segel ?? it's a much more interesting affair than 'Hello Cleveland!', skilfully put together by Victor Krummenacher from tapes of the whole tour. Oh well, fans will relish both.

Mick Dillingham
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002