Long live rock: Cracker, the Evening Rig and the Rockford Mules keep the dream alive

Yes! Cracker gets on with it! Foreword: I'm contractually obligated (not really) to review "Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey," even though I unabashedly threw my support behind Cracker when they were in town last summer and everyone knows th...

"Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey"
Cracker's "Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey" (429 Records, 2009)

Yes! Cracker gets on with it!

Foreword: I'm contractually obligated (not really) to review "Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey," even though I unabashedly threw my support behind Cracker when they were in town last summer and everyone knows this thing'll be a blatant one-way street of love and affection for my favorite sarcastic-rock group of all time. On the other hand, like you needed to read a "fair and balanced" review in a newspaper to pick up the new Cracker record....

Speaking as a child raised on a steady stream of classic rock -- save for those times mom got sauced and cranked up the Motown gold to 11, of course -- the fact that unrestrained rock 'n' roll can flourish in a time of synthesizer-infused everything is cause for celebration.

And nothing says "let the good times roll" like a new Cracker record. It's been three long years since they rolled out the unexpectedly relevant "Greenland," but the group that started out as a potentially unworthy successor to frontman David Lowery's recently deceased Camper Van Beethoven outfit (at least in the eyes of all the nation's fussy college rock geeks) in 1990 still has it.

Let's not mince words: "Sunrise" gets off to a triumphant start. Side 1, Track 1s don't get much more rollicking than "Yalla Yalla (Let's Go)" -- a vaguely political stomper that's sure to "bring it back" for all those lazy Cracker fans who haven't listened to the last couple records. (For shame.)


The momentum keeps on a-rollin' with "Show Me How This Thing Works," a driving number that serves as a good reminder as to how exciting a guitarist Johnny Hickman has always been. You'll literally yearn to relive Cracker's performance at the Superior Speedway last July.

And just when you think the boys in the band -- by no means in their 20s anymore -- are about to blow their collective gasket, they let loose "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out with Me," quite possibly the alt-rock favorites' most gorgeous composition to date. It's simply an unavoidable slice of what the diehards refer to as "Cracker Soul."

Other highlights on this instant classic include Hickman's hilariously endearing "Friends," which features the Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood; the feisty "Hand Me My Inhaler"; and collaborations with X's John Doe ("We All Shine a Light") and the Counting Crows' Adam Duritz ("Darling One").

Color me impressed. (Big surprise, right?)

"Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey" is available now from 429 Records. Watch the videos for the first three singles at .

The Evening Rig is ... awesome

Of the million-odd discs I've received in the last couple weeks, no group has the faded-glory, retro-cool aesthetic down like the Evening Rig. This is weird, considering that this Minneapolis group's brand of throwback rock is more Replacements than Springsteen (the current generation's It messiah of the moment).

If you'll remember -- and I'm sure I'll get a lot of "gruff" for this -- the Land of 10,000 Lakes housed a lot of college radio faves back in the late '80s, yet none of them were too keen in the art department. (Save for the 'Mats' "Don't Tell a Soul," of course. Love that one.)


But, as some unwise people have said throughout my lifetime, you're never supposed to judge anything by its cover, so I'll get off that tangent and onto why all the praise-worthy artwork was created in the first place: the Evening Rig's music.

Which is awesome.

Not only do these cool kids match Paul Westerberg, Chris Mars and the Stinson brothers' early whiskey-soaked intensity, but they also have a soft spot for that legendary foursome's post-Twin/Tone radio-ready gems.

This, too, is awesome.

So, heading into this fancy new Evening Rig disc -- which, while I was a fan of "Never Been'er," finds the group ready to take on the world -- you're treated to heatwave blockbusters ("The Hilltop Pines," "How Does She Do It?"), dirt-road driving music ("A Girl Important," "In Spite of All That Happened") and more than a few songs dedicated to drinking (most notably "Goddamn, I Need a Drink").

Another amazing thing about this disc is that it has a sly pop sheen not heard since Westerberg ventured out on his own in the early '90s -- you know, when groups like the Gin Blossoms were dominating the airwaves. (Pretty much everything I said in my review of "Sweet Precious Time" by Ben Durbin's Modern Antiques can be applied here.)

In other words, get this one now.

"Is Doin' Stuff" is available now from Heart of a Champion. Get a free download of "The Hilltop Pines" at .


The Rockford Mules go camping (kind of)

Like Jerry Cantrell's "Boggy Depot" before it, the Rockford Mules' impressive "From Devil's Spit to Angel Tears" has all the fear and intrigue of a Northwoods drinking party.

We'll all been there* and we all know what those feelings sound like: Rustic hard rock that owes as much to '70s rec rooms as the foosball table at the local dive.

It's music that's alive, as kicking and screaming as your animal instincts, and, yet, it's something you can put on as you catch up with some old buddies. (That is, it's not as blistering as a Number One Common record or anything.)

That said, this Minneapolis group, which I would consider a more-approachable Pantera (as in less blunts, more cans of Hamm's), knows how to make your speakers crackle when they want to. "Heading East to Get West," "What Devils Do" and the title track are all pummeling numbers that bring the hammer down.

There's balance to this record, though, as "No Worthy River" has all the populace-appeasing allure of Ram Jam's rock candy -- it's hard to argue with "Black Betty" -- and "Myrtleville Window" is a sobering tune for the morning after.

A hard rock group hasn't been this recommendable in some time.

*If you haven't, you're either kidding yourself or, quite honestly, this probably isn't the record for you anyway.


The Rockford Mules will perform at 11 p.m. Friday, May 29, at Pizza Luce. The Tisdales are also on the bill. Cost is $5. All ages. Visit for details.

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