The idea of taking rock or pop songs and spinning them into bluegrass rave-ups isnt a new one. Traditionalists such as Del McCoury
have been doing it for years, and more recently jokesters Hayseed Dixie
have turned it into a quickly predictable career, covering AC/DC
, and Aerosmith
. Despite the title, O Cracker, Where Art Thou?
is not simply a well-worn gag. Dave Lowery and Johnny Hickman have teamed with the Colorado jam band Leftover Salmon to re-imagine 10 Cracker songs, and the results are surprisingly effective. Clearly, the guys in Leftover Salmon are great musicians, and any temptation toward improvisational excess is held in check by a respect for the songs, which span Crackers career. Wisely, this includes a four-song cluster from the band's best album, Kerosene Hat
, including a sexy "Sweet Potato," which effortlessly melds bluegrass pickin with New Orleans rhythm, and a version of "Low" haunted by creepy banjo, pedal steel-guitar, and a Hammond organ solo. Lowery's former band, Camper Van Beethoven
, experimented with this sort of musical hybrid, too, with greater abandon but less instrumental expertise. There's no way that CVB could have pulled off the double-time banjo and mandolin fretwork required in a satisfyingly traditional run-through of "Teen Angst,"" or even made it through a simple country lament like "Mr. Wrong" without smirking a little too broadly. Fans of Camper Van will probably miss that band's punky attitude--which only surfaces once, on the smashed country waltz of "Eurotrash Girl"--but these 10 songs are good enough to be twisted into new shapes without betraying the old ones. --Keith Moerer