Personnel: David Lowery (vocals, guitar, banjo); Thayer Sarrano (vocals, guitar, keyboards, background vocals); Johnny Hickman (vocals, guitar, background vocals); Luke Moeller (fiddle); Marc Gilley (saxophone); Marc Golde (keyboards); Sal Maida, Bryan Howard (bass guitar); Michael Urbano (drums, percussion); Jeremy Wheatley (drums); Davey Faragher (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Drew Vandenberg.
Recording information: Chase Park Transduction, Athens, GA (10/2013-08/2014); East Bay Recorders, Berkeley (10/2013-08/2014); John Keane Studios, Athens, GA (10/2013-08/2014); Rock Garden Studio, Appleton, WI (10/2013-08/2014); We're Clothes Studios, Richmond, VA (10/2013-08/2014).
Photographer: Bradford Jones.
Though he was born in Texas, at heart David Lowery has long been a true Californian, and his musings on life in the Golden State have often dotted his albums with Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. Camper Van Beethoven even recorded a pair of concept albums about California, 2013's La Costa Perdida (about the northern part of the state) and 2014's El Camino Real (focusing on Southern California), and apparently Lowery had enough ideas about the West Coast left over for Cracker to try something quite similar. Released in 2014, Berkeley to Bakersfield is a two-disc set that offers a pair of distinct perspectives on this band's musical approach and the mythos of California life. Part one, Berkeley, finds Cracker rocking decisively with a set of lean, guitar-driven rock & roll tunes set mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area, where various forms of bohemia struggle (and not cheerfully) to coexist with the city's new status as a high-tech boomtown. The second act, Bakersfield, predictably enough finds Lowery and company bringing in a handful of guest musicians and playing loose-limbed country tunes, full of bittersweet celebrations of life in the inland valleys along with a strong dose of Don't Tread on Me defiance. The Bakersfield tunes are the purest country music Cracker have released to date, with a rich dose of twangy soul that doesn't negate the frequent seriousness of the lyrics as Lowery's high-attitude vocals blend with Matt "Pistol" Stoessel's pedal steel and Luke Moeller's fiddle. And the rock tunes sound sharp and muscular, with guitarist Johnny Hickman, bassist Davey Faragher, and drummer Michael Urbano bringing lots of spark and plenty of color to the proceedings. Brian Wilson may have invented the rock & roll ideal of California, but David Lowery is doing more than his share to chronicle the way life is lived in his adopted home state in the 21st century, and Berkeley to Bakersfield is one of Cracker's most ambitious and satisfying sets in quite some time, as good as anything they've given us since Kerosene Hat in 1993. ~ Mark Deming