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Cracker comes home to rock 

The band adopts a more straightforward approach for its latest material

Guitarist Johnny Hickman says he'd rather not play with a band that stuck to pretty much the same sound from album to album, or even from song to song.

Fortunately, it's not a problem. Hickman is in Cracker, a band that after nearly 19 years together has established itself as being impossible to pin down.

"I don't think I'd be very happy in a band that played a specific sub-genre," says Hickman. "I don't think David [Lowery, Cracker's frontman] would be either. We've sort of established our career that way, doing whatever we want to do.

"We're not an easily definable band," continues Hickman, "and I take a lot of pride in that. Those are the bands that I like the best, because when I was growing up and falling in love with music, my favorite bands were the ones that would throw me a curveball here and there. And when I bought their albums, it wasn't the hit single and then five weaker versions of that exact same sound. I liked the bands that took me on a little bit of a journey on a record, that took me someplace and surprised me."

Cracker's recent work provides further evidence that the group is no one-trick pony: The 2006 album, Greenland, was an epic mix of textured pop ("Where Have Those Days Gone"), sweet alt-country ("Something You Ain't Got"), and punchy rockist workouts ("Everybody Gets One for Free").

By contrast, Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey, released this past summer, is a direct, rocking album that at times pulls from the punk roots Hickman and Lowery both share. That side of the band is especially evident on "Hand Me My Inhaler," a minute-and-a-half blast of fast-paced guitar assault, and "Show Me How This Thing Works," another hopped-up dose of six-string fever.

Of course, this isn't the first out-and-out rock album from Cracker, which was formed back in 1991 by the two longtime friends after Lowery's previous band, Camper Van Beethoven, had broken up. The following year's self-titled debut album (which featured the hit song "Teen Angst") had much the same aggressive personality, as did 1998's Gentleman's Blues. But Cracker has also been known to indulge in more textured and studio-crafted albums along the way.

Fans who come to Cracker's New Year's Eve gig at the Soiled Dove in Denver can expect to hear the many sides of the band.

"We'll be playing quite a few selections from the latest album, but we try to represent our whole career when we play live. We try to play something from each album if we can and we vary those," says Hickman, who will be particularly pleased to come back and play his adopted home state. (The guitarist moved to the Loveland/Fort Collins area from Los Angeles about four years ago.)

"Colorado has always been a great area for Cracker," he says. "But over the years, I would come through here and in the back of my mind think, 'That's where I'll retire someday.' And my now-wife, I met her about 10 years ago, and she's from here. That sort of clinched the deal."

scene@csindy.com

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