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Cracker releases one of 2009's best albums

David Lowery and Johnny Hickman have been called the godfathers of alternative rock and independent music.

Together, they make up the nucleus of Cracker, the seminal band from Southern California that has been touring and putting out stellar albums since 1991.

Cracker's latest, "Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey," is one of the best records of 2009.

Cracker hit big with its debut single "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)," followed by the classic album "Kerosene Hat," featuring the singles "Low," "Get Off This" and "Euro-Trash Girl."

This year, Cracker has sold out nightly, filling venues with both "Crumbs" (longtime fans) and others and receiving strong reviews of both the shows and the record.

"Things are going really, really well. We've had a little bit of a resurgence, which is nice to report," said guitarist Hickman during a recent phone interview with the Deseret News.

"Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey" recaptures some of the flavor of the first two Cracker albums. For this album, the band did things a little differently, writing the songs almost from scratch when they got together.

"We kind of distilled the sound a little bit, brought it back to a four-piece like the first two albums," Hickman said. "It was the perfect record to strip it back. We kept it pretty straightforward this time. The ideas we brought in were a little rougher, less completed songs."

The result is classic Cracker, combining Hickman's brilliant guitar work with Lowery's intelligent and socially observant lyrics. The guitar work in "Sunrise" finds Hickman at the top of his game, complementing the music without being excessive while shredding through a blistering solo when needed.

"I don't like a lot of guitar parts," Hickman said. "Some songs sound great without a whole lot else. The basic Cracker formula from the start, it's a like a conversation between my guitar and David's lyrics. They answer one another. Sometimes they go at the same time. I make a big racket on the guitar, David talks, I make more racket, David talks more."

Standout songs include "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me," a title borrowed from the catch phrase made famous in the 1960s by Timothy Leary. The song, Hickman says, explores the Chicken Little fears some people have in today's world, that the end of civilization is near and we need to run off to the middle of nowhere to live off the land.

"Yalla Yalla," which in Arabic means "Let's Go," is a darkly humored look at soldiers in war, without being specific to any conflict or taking any stance.

Based on conversations of a couple of young soldiers that Lowery overheard in an airport, the song takes a look at how soldiers deal with the stresses of war. Hickman likens it to "being in the middle of the nightmare but finding some humor in it,"

Those going to the Cracker/Booker T./Drive-By Truckers show at Red Butte Garden Sept. 3 are encouraged to arrive early. Cracker will be bringing a film crew along to record that night's performance of "Friends," a song that originally appeared on Hickman's outstanding solo effort, 2005's "Palmhenge."

The song was re-done as a duet with the Drive-By Trucker's Patterson Hood for "Sunrise."

If you go…

What: Booker T. & the Drive-By Truckers; Cracker

Where: Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre, 300 Wakara Way

When: Sept. 3, 6:30 p.m.

How much: $35

Phone: 801-585-0556