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Cracker | Countrysides (Cooking Vinyl)
My god, I just love Camper Van Beethoven, always have, always will. Check out Cooking Vinyl's ridiculously cheap five CD box set 'Cigarettes and Carrot Juice -The Santa Cruz Years' with an open heart and I'm sure you'll discover that, in this case, my love is not blind. When Campers split at the start of the '90s Jonathan Segel recorded his classic 'Storytelling' and the rest became the majestic Monks Of Doom and, later still, Victor Krummenacher came into his own with a series of brilliant solo albums, culminating in his most recent masterpiece 'Nocturne'. But what of CVB's self-appointed leader, David Lowery? Well he formed Cracker with guitarist Johnny Hickman and, considering Lowery was principle song writer and lead vocalist in my beloved Campers, I was surprisingly underwhelmed to the point of disinterest. It maybe didn't help that the other Campers continued to make such brilliant and creatively vital music, because the playing on the first couple of Cracker albums seemed infantile by comparison. Lowery, who had pulled out all the songwriting stops for the last CVB album, 'Key Lime Pie', had seemingly frazzled his talent in the process and was now only pulling out three or so good songs per album. There was too much that just didn't work and the rest was bog-standard, good-time, bad times, country barfly music that held little appeal to these ears. Things seemed to settle down into some fine Americana for the next outing 'Golden Age' before reverting to the same aimless mediocrity for the follow up 'Kerosene Hat', albeit with playing of increased quality and confidence. But Cracker were still nothing to write home about. Then came 'Forever' and everything changed, a magnificent collection of gems, each track a classic and as far away from their mundane rootsiness as one could ever dream. 'Forever' was their most commercial effort yet and it was bound to alienate that part of their audience who swooned whenever the band played Lonesome Johnny Blues live. Those loyal luddites will welcome 'Countrysides', on which Cracker indulge themselves by covering the likes of, Hank Williams Jnr., Bruce Springsteen, Dwight Yoakam and Merle Haggard with open arms. Myself, I couldn't care less for this project, but I cannot deny that its played with class and swagger (there's no denying Cracker are shit hot players). The album closes with the only original of this nine tracker, Ain't Gonna Suck Itself, on which Lowery has a right old dig at Virgin, who dumped the band a couple of years back. His lyrical vitriol should be enough for the offended label to bury the band's Virgin back catalogue in an archive that will never open. No bad thing, considering.

Mick Dillingham
CWAS #12 - Summer 2003