Cracker Garage d'Or

Headed by the musical artisan David Lowery, Cracker is offering its fine mystical American moonshine distilled from an already great harvest. On this, their greatest hits compilation, Lowery and his mates sound at times like they had played in a sandbox behind the Band's Big Pink as kids, while also having us believe they had lost their virginity with Richard Hell in the dashboard. Bourbon-breathed Americana-fused with an innate understanding of punk make this a compilation of great stylistic duality. That they opened for both the Grateful Dead and the Ramones is proof of this. Most of the vocals are recorded as dry as a sunburnt tumbleweed in a dryer, while the band, for the most part, is stripped down with the exception of the odd string section or sample on the later material that is anything but airily produced. The overall effect is a sound that is close and tight, creating a situation that would make the music embarrassing if it were not honest. "Teen Angst" and "Low" are modern-day classics and illustrate how Lowery can craft an anthem using the simplest musical elements and not create a dull piece of pap. "Big Dipper" takes us to the Ozarks, sits us down on the front veranda and makes us feel empathy for that little kid playing banjo on the bridge. A great sampler of songs by an excellent American songwriter and his band. (Virgin)