Berkeley to Bakersfield
Rating: 3. 5 out of 5 stars
Whatever you may think of David Lowery, he’s a hard worker who has been on a prolific roll as of late; first with two solid if inconsistent albums within 18 months with a resuscitated Camper Van Beethoven and now a double disc from the on-again/off-again Cracker.
This latest pays tribute to the sounds and most pointedly the vibe, of the titular California cities that forged Lowery’s approach. Berkeley is geared towards rawer, more garage oriented rocking with Bakersfield not surprisingly shifting to a rootsy country/Americana style. Both are short enough to easily fit onto a single platter, but Lowery clearly wanted to separate the music, and players, into two distinct entities. Berkeley notably reconvenes the original Cracker lineup who hasn’t recorded together in over 20 years while Bakersfield keeps the core outfit of Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman, adding a half dozen guest musicians to provide the fiddles and pedal steel that bring authenticity to the country rock. Some lyrics correspond to other cities (“San Bernardino Boy,” “El Cerrito”) and how they are both very different from Los Angeles.
While the result can’t be dismissed as a gimmick, the best tracks of both would have made a great single album. Spread out over two shorter ones, the effect is diluted since there are some duff moments on both that could have been removed if Lowery would have let go of his concept. Regardless, Cracker fans will enjoy the results even if there is enough cross-pollination of genres to sometimes make it difficult to know which side of the band you are hearing.
Lowery’s dry often dark humor, and associated throaty vocal, is in full flight and Hickman’s tight, pointed guitar solos appear sporadically enough so he never appears to be showboating. Highlights such as the languid “When You Come Down” with its sweet/tart pedal steel (from Bakersfield) and the crackling garage punk of “Beautiful” (from Berkeley) can stand next to some of Cracker’s finest tunes even if they don’t have the classic ring of “Low” or “Euro-Trash Girl.”
And, having too much of the always intriguing David Lowery makes for a better world than not having enough.