This December Cracker will be releasing their tenth studio effort, entitled Berkeley To Bakersfield, a double-album that finds this uniquely American band traversing two different sides of the California landscape – the northern Bay area and further down-state in Bakersfield.
Despite being less than a five-hour drive from city to city, musically, these two regions couldn’t be further apart from one another. In the late ‘70s and ‘80s a harder-edged style of rock music emerged from the Bay area, while Bakersfield is renowned for its own iconic twangy country music popularized, most famously, by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Yet despite these differences, they are both elements that Cracker’s two cofounders, David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, have embraced to some degree on nearly every one of their studio albums over the last two decades. On Berkeley To Bakersfield, however, instead of integrating these two genres together within one disc, they’ve neatly compartmentalized them onto their own respective regionally-titled LPs.
As Lowery explains, “On the Berkeley disc the band is the original Cracker lineup - Davey Faragher, Michael Urbano, Johnny and myself. This is the first time this lineup has recorded together in almost 20 years. We began recording this album at East Bay Recorders in Berkeley, CA. For this reason we chose to stylistically focus this disc on the music we most associate with the East Bay: Punk and Garage with some funky undertones. To further match our sense of place we often took an overtly political tone in the lyrics.”
“This Bakersfield disc represents the ‘California country’ side of the band. Throughout the band’s 24-year history we’ve dabbled in Country and Americana but this time we wanted to pay homage to the particular strain of Country and Country-Rock music that emerges from the inland valleys of California.”
Cracker has been described as a lot of things over the years: alt-rock, Americana, insurgent-country, and have even had the terms punk and classic-rock thrown at them. But more than anything Cracker are survivors. Cofounders Lowery and Hickman have been at it for almost a quarter of a century – amassing ten studio albums, multiple gold records, thousands of live performances, hit songs that are still in current radio rotation around the globe ("Low," "Euro-Trash Girl,” "Get Off This" and “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me” to name just a few), and a worldwide fan base - that despite the major sea-changes within the music industry - continues to grow each year.
Amongst many attempts to describe The Whiskey Gentry, perhaps the best take was from Paste Magazine who called them a "toe-tapping, steamrolling kind of band, its fingers picking deep into fields of bluegrass…with a punk-inspired kick drum."
The Whiskey Gentry's catchy tunes reel in listeners spanning from music novices to mainstream audiences, while their musical mastery garners the professional praise and respect of those with the most sophisticated of musical palates.
Two albums in, both co-produced by John Keane (R.E.M., Uncle Tupelo), they recently gained official recognition as a finalist in the Chris Austin Songwriting Competition held at MerleFest. From local haunts to the Nashville music industry's elite, the band's burgeoning followers and supporters have quite literally set the stage for nationwide venues and air waves.
Initially a quintet formed by husband and wife duo Lauren Staley and Jason Morrow, the band's debut album in 2011 Please Make Welcome became a critically-acclaimed success, quickly launching the Atlanta-based band into markets from Tampa to NYC, and at festivals priding themselves as the first to showcase the next best thing.
They have since expanded on both a physical and geographic level, becoming a septet comprised of Chesley Lowe on banjo, Sammy Griffin on bass, Price Cannon on drums, Michael Smith on mandolin, and Rurik Nunan on fiddle.
Their most recent album, Holly Grove, is another leap in the band's ongoing evolution on a musical and social scale. In early 2013, The Whiskey Gentry rallied fans to raise funds for studio sessions through a Kickstarter campaign, which ultimately far surpassed their goals and expectations.
Local artists and established pros alike pitched in as well, creating a true ensemble effort on songs such as a duet with Butch Walker on "One Night in New York," and cameos throughout the album by Les Hall, the Dappled Grays, and Radiolucent.
Mastered by Glenn Schick (Indigo Girls, Drive-By Truckers), Holly Grove infuses elements of country, bluegrass, folk, rock, and punk with a mix of poppy and poignant lyrics, fiery and heartfelt vocals, traditional and avant-garde sound, honesty, edginess, and entertainment all around. Luring listeners in, capturing their ears, hearts, and minds, and blazing new trails in Americana music and beyond, The Whiskey Gentry is only just warming its heels.
Hunter S. Thompson wrote that "the whiskey gentry" was "a pretentious mix of booze, failed dreams, and a terminal identity crisis." Though they are never lacking offers from fans for a shot of whiskey, their dreams are becoming reality, their identity is distinct, their future on a steady crescendo.
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