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Cracker, CVB croon of lost love

New album inspired by Led Zeppelin, early Pink Floyd

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Thursday's free show at the Gallivan Center will focus on Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven works.

Thursday’s free show at the Gallivan Center will focus on Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven works.

Danny Clinch, Cooking Vinyl

When Virgin Records released a greatest-hits CD from Cracker earlier this year, it was without the blessing of its former client.

Although Cracker still owned the rights, Virgin owned the recordings and was legally allowed to put out another greatest-hits CD from the band even though it was no longer with the label.

"The pitch was, 'It'll be good for us,' " guitarist Johnny Hickman said by phone from his Colorado home.

But Hickman and Cracker co-founder David Lowery (who also formed Camper Van Beethoven) — who are considered by many to be the godfathers of independent music and the uncles of alternative rock — didn't need to have their music "rediscovered."

"We've been on the road playing these songs for over a decade now," Hickman said.

Realizing they couldn't stop the CD from being released, Hickman and Lowery asked Virgin if they might return the favor of "a little cult band" who was making the giant record label some money by giving them a little extra cash for tour support, or wait to release the greatest hits at the same time Cracker's new album was to come out. Virgin said no.

"We found ourselves in the position of, 'What would Andy Kaufman do?' " Hickman said.

What Hickman, Lowery and the rest of Cracker did was go back into their own studio, re-record all the songs that were to be on Virgin's greatest-hits CD, and then release their own greatest-hits CD, with essentially the same track listing, on the same day Virgin released its CD.

Although Cracker's lawyer advised them they could call their record "Virgin Sucks" if they wanted to, the band took the high road and simply called their version "Greatest Hits Redux." The officially sanctioned greatest-hits album was at one point outselling the release from the deep-pocketed record label.

"That was a lot of fun, saying this is our music," Hickman said. "It was a point of honor more than anything else. If you don't make a few enemies you're probably not doing your job."

Now Cracker is touring in support of its first album of new material in four years, "Greenland." "It's gotten the best reviews we've gotten in a long time," Hickman said.

The central theme of the new album is lost love, and it is a reflective album for Lowery. "It's David's album in a lot of ways," Hickman said. "It comes from a very personal place for David. Lyrically it's taking stock of where he's been and where he's going. You have to write what's in your blood, not what's in your head."

Although the album may be lyrically personal to Lowery, it also provides plenty of opportunity for the guitar wizardry of Hickman to shine. "Greenland" steers away from Cracker's alt-country tendencies and is inspired more by the group's rock heroes, such as Led Zeppelin, early Pink Floyd and the psychedelic era of the Beatles. "David is always one of my favorite songwriters. He's outdone himself on this album lyrically. I'm very, very proud of this album."

But while Hickman has often played Oates to Lowery's Hall, he stepped out of Lowery's shadow in 2005 with his outstanding debut solo release, "Palmhenge," an album that showcased Hickman's songwriting, guitar playing and singing.

Thursday's show at the Gallivan Center, however, will focus on Cracker and CVB material. Hickman said if he, Lowery and their other bandmates tried to play material from all the side projects in addition to their Cracker and CVB catalog, "We'd be there for a day or two."

If you go

What: Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven

Where: Gallivan Center

When: Thursday

How much: Free

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com