4 out of 5
Produced by: Don Smith
Like every 90s kid, I knew of Cracker from their Kerosene Hat mega-single days, and like every other (or so) 90s kid, I didn’t pay much attention to them after that. In the latter part of that decade, someone introduced me to the slacker weirdo cool of the first Camper Van Beethoven record – which I loved – and which then blew my little mind to smitherpoos when finding out the latter band had sorta kinda shifted into the former.
Proudly spinning my growing collection of CVB discs, I tromped into my mall music shoppe and damn right demanded I be served the latest Cracker album. Which, at the time, was Gentleman’s Blues.
Mind blown again: I could understand the connection from the laid back, college vibe of Take the Skinheads Bowling to the undercover alternative snark of Get Off This, but Gentleman’s Blues was the Key Lime Pie of the Cracker equation: frontman David Lowery had been an old man for years, but it was like those decades of smirking had taken their toll, resulting in a sobering, often beautiful album. Which isn’t without the Cracker charm, of course – the non-sequitors, the rock-n-roll – but the baiting of pop and singles had given way to a more organic, soulful sound, and much more reflective lyrics. The Allmusic review has it more succinctly: Listen to the grungey aping on previous album Golden Age’s singles: the group was a day late on the trend and wasn’t able to capitalize on their Kerosene Hat buzz status. This certainly matches Lowery’s also-rans life is sorta sucky personality; Blues just suggests the ride was particularly rough this time.
Cracker would emerge on the other side of this album as a more grounded band (or collective, perhaps), able to pursue the songs and tones that met their fancy and producing some amazing music as a result. This album is the crucible, though, resulting in some knock-you-down catchy but aggressive moments – Seven Days, Been Around the World – and then some gorgeously sad ones – Lullabye, James River. The sequencing trails off after Wild One, the group seemingly uncertain on what note to end things and so they just sorta keep going, but there’s a unified front here that carries through even to Johnny’s tracks (Hold of Myself), which generally stick out like rockabilly sore thumbs.
I don’t mean to mislead: Gentleman’s Blues is by no means an outright tearjerker or anything, but this is clearly a different band than the one who penned Cracker Soul and Euro-Trash Girl. Those songs – and the albums from which they came – are stone cold classics, but Gentleman’s Blues strikes at something deeper, and I think is responsible for paving the way to the slew of excellent Cracker / CVB music we’ve been blessed with since.