Saturday, April 25, 2009

Review: Cracker - Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey

Cracker! Where the hell have you been?

For the longest time, I had the feeling something was a bit amiss. Today, I found out what it was. It came back to me in the form of of a CD in my mailbox this morning. This "it" was the new collection of songs from Cracker entitled, Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey.

I admit, I've not been among the true faithful for a few years. Countrysides was fun, if sloppily drunken and Greatest Hits Redux was nice to hear, but it felt like the last gasp of Cracker as a recording group. I felt that their last effort, Greenland, was basically the final curtain for one of my favorite, enduring bands. I was so non plussed by that album, it became the first and only Cracker album I listened to once and then abandoned. Sure it was a good, well written album, but there wasn't any fire. Greenland sounded like a former Hell and brimstone band retiring to their rocking chairs. I said, "Thanks for the memories" and moved on.

Today was the wake up call. Cracker's new album, Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey, is the musical (and lyrical) Phoenix rising from the ashes of the Greenland album. In many ways, this is Cracker's most explosive selection of material since their first disc back in 1991.

From the opening track, "Yalla Yalla (Let's Go)" [see the video here], it's clear that Cracker isn't going to be introspective or sentimental. Frank Funaro's metronome drum bash and David Lowrey's throaty rasp sell the plight of a US soldier's day patrolling the Middle East. The following two tracks, "Show Me How This Thing Works" and "Turn on, Tune In, Drop Out With Me" find the band falling back into familiar territory that one would find as filler on any Cracker album. The former tune has a Sci Fi bent with the narrator musing over a device seemingly from Outer Space. The latter tune (the weakest on the album) was selected as the album's first single. It's a pleasant song with a Jeff Lynne style production, but it's maybe a bit too MOR for the tracks that share the disc with it.

"We All Shine a Light" is a custom made lighter raising club anthem featuring "X" front man John Doe lending extra credence to the tune, while "Hand Me My Inhaler" makes the most of it's brief running time with a rollicking punk sensibility that hearkens back to Camper Van Beethoven's earliest albums.

"Friends", a Johnny Hickman penned tune that he previously recorded on his solo album, Stonehenge turns up here in duet form with David Lowrey trading verses with Drive By Truckers' Alumni Patterson Hood. The song sounds like a virtual re-write of "Mr. Wrong" from the first Cracker album and there's just a bit of wonder in this reviewers mind as to why Johnny didn't share vocals with Lowrey instead.

The last 5 songs pretty much solidify the album's brilliance quotient. "I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right" lays down a sinewy funk that wouldn't sound out of place on a Zutons album. "Time Machine" is a straight ahead rocker that Johnny Hickman completely shreds with a killer guitar riff and one of his fiercest solos he's played in years.

"Hey Brett (You Know What Time It Is)" gets a bit political with it's pointed lyrics and a band in-joke chorus. "Darling One", a song written by Lowrey with Mark Linkous and Suzanna Hoffs with backing vocals by Adam Duritz, is a lovely upbeat love song with a soaring guitar from Johnny.

The Album ends with the title track, "Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey". It's a great album closer that left me wanting to start the whole album over again.

You can read from the past paragraphs that this is a new phase of production for Cracker. In the past, Cracker (that is Hickman and Lowrey) would do the majority of the writing and finish the songs with whoever else was in the band at the time. On this endeavour, the songs were written by Lowrey, Hickman, Funaro and the latest bassist, Sal Maida. I don't believe there has been this much outer assistance since the first album, when Davey Faragher (who gets a liner note shout out with his publishing company) was the first official member of Cracker.

This album is not to be missed. No matter if you haven't heard Cracker in awhile... or if the last couple of albums had left you cold... or if you're a dyed in the wool fan of Cracker Soul, you should make the purchase when the album is released on May 5th (yeah, Cinco De Mayo). It's highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New CRACKER album info!

I received a press release for the new Cracker album today. Here's the text:



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Alt-rock icons Cracker have signed with 429 Records and are preparing to unleash a collection of new songs, SUNRISE IN THE LAND OF MILK AND HONEY. Long-time musical co-horts David Lowery and Johnny Hickman have teamed up again with drummer Frank Funaro and bassist Sal Maida and along with stellar producer David Barbe (Drive By Truckers), have created a uniquely eclectic trove of new tunes. Well-worn words used to describe their sound—brash, irreverent, sharp-witted, anthemic and riveting—all descriptives are in full-effect on the new project that bursts with their trademark rock, punk, glam, surf and country aesthetic. Friends John Doe, Patterson Hood and Adam Duritz also make spirited guest turns on SUNRISE…Their 429 Records debut is in-stores on May 5 and the first single to radio is “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me” (add date April 7).

Taking a new approach to their creative process, SUNRISE IN THE LAND OF MILK AND HONEY is a truly collaborative effort for the band. Suprisingly self-disciplined, the whole band would take time out to write together one week every two months between tours over the course of a year. Focusing on a goal of two songs per day, their individual musical influences combined in refreshing and distinctive ways. On the outside it was a straight-ahead work ethic, but the process resulted in the band clicking creatively with a renewed energy.

Says Lowery: “We weren’t kicking back on an island in the Caribbean, waiting for the muse to hit us. We got down to work, found the punk and glam rock in our blood and woke up to Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey.”

Track listing:

Yalla Yalla (Let’s Go)
Show Me How This Thing Works
Turn On, Tune In Drop Out With Me
We All Shine A Light (w/ John Doe)
Hand Me My Inhaler
Friends (w/ Patterson Hood)
I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right
Time Machine
Hey Bret (You Know What Time It Is)
Darling One (w/ Adam Duritz)
Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey

429 Records is a unit of the Savoy Label Group (SLG). SLG is the North American unit of CME (Columbia Music Entertainment), the oldest music company in Japan. The Savoy Label Group has evolved into a leading independent company consistently outperforming competitors in key music categories as monitored by Billboard Magazine. SLG is lead by Steve Vining and CME is headed by Chairman Strauss Zelnick, founder of Zelnick Media which owns interests in and manages an array of media companies.

I'll be reviewing the album in a few days so keep yer eyes peeled. Meanwhile, you can download the banner below to put on your own sites!

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Beauty Within

I'm absolutely positive that, by now, you've seen the segment of "Britain's Got Talent" featuring Susan Boyle. It was pure and classic television and one of those moments that will surely go down in history. I can't say I wasn't moved by the segment. I had the feeling that I was watching the tail end of a crowd pleasing movie and I'm already betting that a Susan Boyle life story movie (probably entitled, "I Dreamed a Dream") is on it's way to being green lighted.

It is strange to me that so much is being made of her appearance than anything else. There is a definite angle here; average looking middle aged (47) woman with voice of an angel makes good, but really, does she look all that bad? No. Of course not. She looks like most women her age. Seriously. If you don't believe so, you're one of the billions of people who have watched so many TV programs and movies that you think the beautiful people are the majority. Even most of the beautiful people out there aren't... without help.

Beauty is rare, plain and simple. It is. If it weren't there wouldn't be a need for makeup and hair products. A person who can look beautiful without any external help from rise to rest is indeed a four leaf clover. Most people simply aren't beautiful and help is needed to achieve a certain illusion.

The whole situation is reminding me of 2 films that I've recently watched. One is from South Korea and the other is Japanese. The former of the two is entitled "200 Pounds Beauty" and concerns a morbidly obese woman, Kang Han-na, with an incredible singing voice. She provides the singing vocals for a beautiful Pop Star who lip syncs to Han-na onstage, while Han-na sings from underneath the stage. Han-na blackmails a plastic surgeon to do extensive work on her and she becomes "Jenny" a beautiful pop star in her own right.

The other film, Japan's "The Handsome Suit", concerns an unsightly man who runs a local restaurant. Women are regularly repelled by him and he's never had a girlfriend. When a pretty young girl applies for a job as a waitress, his heart is set afire, though he knows he'll never win her because of his looks. One day, a man hands him a card for a suit shop. Since he has to attend a wedding he goes to purchase a suit, only to be led into the back room and let in on a new technology. It's "The Handsome Suit", a full body suit that vaccuforms to the wearer and makes the person incredibly handsome. He becomes a model, but can't win the girl of his dreams.

The theme of both movies is, ultimately, be yourself and stay who you are because you end up turning your back on those who already love you when you chase frivolous dreams.

Both movies were hits and not because of the moral. People flocked to these films because we all feel like we could be successful if we were more handsome, or pretty, or had that something that other people would die to possess. It was the duty of these films to let the audience have these fantasies, but to tell them in the end that fantasies are nice, but you have to make the best of who you are. Any other message would be simply irresponsible.

...Which brings me back to the Susan Boyle subject. We're now seeing a woman who is wholly herself. She doesn't seem to have any personal illusions for fame and fortune. She says she's never been kissed. I believe it. Not because she's homely, mind you, but she doesn't seem to be the type to casually kiss. She's a proper person. A normal person. An AVERAGE person. Damn, maybe that's just as rare. I don't know anymore.

This woman is in for a little bit of a ride, I think. She'll make an album, be a media darling for a while (these whiles are getting shorter and shorter in the Internet age) but in the end she'll ultimately go back to her village and cat and talk about the times she had. Back to anonymity. For a woman that simple and sweet, there should be no other ending.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Shockedelic Wear

I've joined with Cafe press to make available "The Shockedelic Cafe" Clothing Line.

Click on the shirt to go to the store. In time I'll have a widget that will make shopping even easier. Buy BUY BUY!!!!!