As a new group of freshman enter Williams, it is important to remember the all-important musical history that has been passed down before their arrival. Two years ago at this time Cracker came to campus to play from their newly released album, The Golden Age. Since then, little has changed in the purple valley; Cracker, however, came, played, left and released a brand new disc full of pleasantries in the meantime.
Gentleman’s Blues is aptly titled, for most of the songs are less harsh then their last album, which in turn was much more polished then their previous efforts. Recorded in Richmond, Virginia, most of the songs are bland, non-offensive and great for talking above. Tracks like “James River” and “Been Around the World” reflect a blues tradition in their pessimism and somber chords, yet fail to inspire any sort of real thoughts. Instead they tend to lull one to sleep, a prospect clearly not intended by Lowery and company.
While earlier Cracker releases tended to rely on one or two pop songs, alternative numbers or straight up garage fidelity trash tracks, Gentleman’s Blues lacks all of these. There is no “Matchstick Men” song hearkening back to the Camper Van days, no “Low” remake or even an “I Hate My Generation” clone on the new release, leaving Cracker fans without any real popular support base or what’s worse, radio airplay. The only truly strange song is “I Want Out of the Circus,” which like most of the others has been polished too much to be enjoyable.
A few songs do hearken back to an earlier, rawer Cracker, such as “The World is Mine,” “The Good Life,” “Seven Days” and “Star.” All of these are quality tunes that will not stay lodged in your head long, but still carry the CD forward. Most of them are at the beginning of the album, leading the listener to falsely believe that the songs are going to get even better; that is, until one runs into track four and the insomniac begins to feel his eyes droop.
The song that is worth buying the entire disc for, though, is squeezed on the last track. In a surprise maneuver to all veteran Cracker fans, Lowery chose to put an actual song rather than a mess of notes onto the “hidden” track, entitled, for lack of a better name, “Cinderella.” It is a unique twangish melody that is passionate while retaining some of the old, unpolished sounding style of early Cracker. Kristin Ashbury, a backup vocalist on several tracks, takes lead. Although her voice is far from perfect, she manages to carry the song’s attitude off without a hitch.
In a nutshell, the new Cracker is far from greatness, but equally distant from mediocrity. It is appealing to both fans and non-fans alike, but fails to live up to the promise of its predecessors. A few songs are good, some are bad, and some fall in between. In short, Gentleman’s Blues is average.