The idea of taking rock or pop songs and spinning them into bluegrass rave-ups isn?t a new one. Traditionalists such as Del McCoury have been doing it for years, and more recently jokesters Hayseed Dixie have turned it into a quickly predictable career, covering AC/DC , Kiss, and Aerosmith. Despite the title, O Cracker, Where Art Thou? is not simply a well-worn gag. Dave Lowery and Johnny Hickman have teamed with the Colorado jam band Leftover Salmon to re-imagine 10 Cracker songs, and the results are surprisingly effective. Clearly, the guys in Leftover Salmon are great musicians, and any temptation toward improvisational excess is held in check by a respect for the songs, which span Cracker?s career. Wisely, this includes a four-song cluster from the band's best album, Kerosene Hat, including a sexy "Sweet Potato," which effortlessly melds bluegrass pickin? with New Orleans rhythm, and a version of "Low" haunted by creepy banjo, pedal steel-guitar, and a Hammond organ solo. Lowery's former band, Camper Van Beethoven, experimented with this sort of musical hybrid, too, with greater abandon but less instrumental expertise. There's no way that CVB could have pulled off the double-time banjo and mandolin fretwork required in a satisfyingly traditional run-through of "Teen Angst,"" or even made it through a simple country lament like "Mr. Wrong" without smirking a little too broadly. Fans of Camper Van will probably miss that band's punky attitude--which only surfaces once, on the smashed country waltz of "Eurotrash Girl"--but these 10 songs are good enough to be twisted into new shapes without betraying the old ones. --Keith Moerer
David A. Marshall | Chesterfield, MA USA | 05/24/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A few years ago I was playing banjo along with Cracker's Golden Age and realized how great this band would sound with a banjo. I suggested it on their web site and I'm sure it was lost among the hundreds of other posts. I had to wonder if the musicians even read their own web sites fan postings when they are so filled with idle chatter (mine excepted, of course).This album goes beyond my expectations. The current "bluegrass players" (many of whom used to play bluegrass and now have gone onto other things using those instruments) have really succeeded in reviving that genre of music (with some help from NPR that has been using it in fills between news for years). There are those that maintain the tradition faithfully like Ricky Skaggs and those like Bela Fleck that are taking it toward jazz and world music. And then a bunch of others doing stuff in between like String Cheese Incident. But none of this has really done it for me. Either the musical gymnastics are self-indulgent but to complex to listen to unless you get off on keeping track of shifts between time signatures or the songwriting is so weak that you'd rather go back and put on some Stanley Brothers or Bill Monroe and hear the real thing.
Bob Dylan in his last few albums has made many references to American roots and blues music - both instrumentally and lyrically and they've been excellent records. Cracker has now helped define the musical Zeitgeist with this recording. I don't know if this disk is a gag or was seriously considered but following on the heels of "Forever" which I found to be ponderous and turgid this is refreshing to say the least.The best cuts, in my opinion, are the ones that are the most acoustic/bluegrass sounding: Teen Angst with its blazing banjo and mandolin, How Can I live Without You, Sweet Potato has a really nice "unplugged" sound with string bass I think. Lonesome Johnny Blues, which never struck me as anything more than filler in its old incarnation, now works nicely with the banjo rolls. The piano playing throughout is excellent (reminds me of the sound that Bill Payne added to Little Feat). Also some great electric slide guitar solos. The downside:
I think the least successful are their hits: "Low" and "Eurotrash Girl" because they pretty much sound like they always do.Not enough cuts. Only 10 songs. Theres 80 mins of music that fits on a disk. Fill 'er up!I'm hoping Cracker takes this on tour or hires some new players who can do this stuff. More albums like this please and thank you David Lowery for doing this!!! This is one direction that I think rock and roll needs to go if its going to survive with any vitality."
Categorizing the impact
Grady Historian | Denver, CO United States | 05/23/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Some people are just lucky. If you're a fan of both Leftover Salmon AND Cracker (like me), you can count yourself among the lucky ones. In "O Cracker, Where Art Thou?" you are getting an amazing melding of each band's strengths. The glories of Cracker lyrics combined with the instrumental musicality of Leftover Salmon will astound you. Although "Get Off This" provides a somewhat dismal context (Cracker at a county fair... on quaaludes), by the time "Sweet Potato" comes around the LoS stringers are in full sound. "Mr Wrong" exploits a twangy-country sound with excellent, syncopated keyboards courtesy of Bill McKay. "Teen Agnst" is also awesome with its newly-upbeat rhythms (think bango guy gone wild!).But how will the respective fans of Leftover Salmon or Cracker like this CD? I think back to the old Reese's commercials: "Your chocolate is in my peanut butter!" "No, your peanut butter is in my chocolate!" Will fans of each taste enjoy finding them together? Here's what I think...Fans who love Cracker especially for their lyrics will enjoy hearing the songs in a new context. But fans who love Cracker for their harddriving rock would best avoid this CD. It won't be your bag.Similarly, Leftover Salmon fans who enjoy the purity and experimentation of traditional bluegrass could avoid this CD. But syncretists who enjoy the smashing success of melding musical styles will be well served.Truly, like Reese's peanut butter cups, we've got "two great tastes that taste great together." I love it, and if you're open to Cracker music in this bluegrass context, you're in for quite a sweet treat!"
Even better than the originals
W. A. Norris | Redmond, WA United States | 01/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have no idea where the concept for this CD came from, but it's inspired. I'm a Lowery fan from way back, and I can't even imagine how many times I must have listened to Kerosene Hat. And I haven't heard a lot of Leftover Salmon, but I've really liked what I've heard. Put them together, and you get this classic album. Yeah, it could be longer, but so what? The point is that what's here is terrific. The version of "Mr. Wrong" is far better than the original -- Lowery renders it more as wry this time, instead of as a wisecrack -- and hearing "Eurotrash Girl" turned into a country waltz is priceless. "Sweet Potato" and "Lonesome Johnny Blues" are so perfect for this arrangement that the instrumentation sounds more natural for the songs than the originals. The instrumental work totally reinvents "Teen Angst." Overall, if you're not familiar with Cracker, the strong songwriting and the brilliant instrumental work by Leftover Salmon should convert you. If you are a Cracker fan, this album has to be a must-have."