Yeeehaw! Cracker goes country, or at least garage-country. Everything that was praiseworthy about the band's music on past albums is present on this disc - including anthemic singalongs and romping musicianship.

Though the opening track "Truckload of Art" doesn't do justice to an otherwise great collection of tunes (the sound on this initial cut is more like bluegrass-meets-polka), the tune's irreverent message would likely be embraced at any smoky redneck watering-hole. So I guess it fits. The song involves precious art getting burned and scattered when a truck wrecks on the highway. Hee hee Cooter, that is funny. The second track, "Duty Free," isn't really what I'd call country either. But it's catchy. It's more like good ol' Cracker garage-pop, complete with a hooky refrain: "Do you need anyTHING from Duty Free?/I can't GET OUT of the U.S.A." Can't help but sing to that one.

Moving on to the actual "country" material, the band's take on one of my personal favorite's, Wylie Hubbard's, "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mothers," rocks... Cracker style, that is. Another of the standout cuts on the disc is the group's version of Hank Williams Junior's "Family Tradition," which caused my head to bob involuntarily and prompted an acute craving for ice cold Pabst Blue Ribbon. The tune asks that age-old question: "Why do you drink?/Why do your roll smoke?/Why must you live out the songs that you wrote?" Hank Jr. knows the answer. It's tradition, dammit.

The album's high point might well be the cover of Willie Nelson's "Reasons To Quit." The lyrics say it all: "Reasons to quit/because the low is always lower than the high/but the reasons to quit don't outnumber the reasons why... so we keep smoking we keep drinking having fun and never thinking/laughing at the price tag that we pay/we keep rollin' down that fast lane like two men feelin no pain/and the reasons to quit are gettin' bigger every day." The irony, present throughout the album, seems to disappear on the cut, with the delivery sounding almost earnest as it defines the conflict at the heart of all who seek good times through stimulants.

On the topic of irony, Cracker, which is headed by Camper Van Beethoven's David Lowery, crafted Countrysides after playing a string of dive bars (with names including Bubba's and the Rebel Lounge) under the name Ironic Mullet. The final track "It Ain't Gonna Suck Itself" is a Lowery-penned kiss-off to Virgin Records, which tried to sink the album by buying out the band's contract. Obviously, the big label didn't win. Yeeeehaw to that. Now let's get back to the Rebel Lounge.

Countrysides is due to be released in the United States on October 14th 2003.

Nick Hutchinson
JamBase | Colorado
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[Published on: 8/12/03]

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