MTV Goes Juke Joint
It’s so weird that Uncle Kracker is a rock star. I mean, it’s one thing for him to be spinning for Kid Rock, held captive by the limitations of a DJ table, and confined, for the most part, to the dark shadows of Kid Rock’s narcissistic stage performance. That part seems okay, even normal. But for Uncle Kracker, aka Matt Shafer, to actually be the main attraction just seems, like I said, weird. He seems like the kind of guy who would be a member of some townie whiskey bar’s house band, playing every Friday and Saturday night to the same bunch of hard drinkin’, pool-playin’, Harley Davidson tee-shirt-wearin’ bunch of hillbilly rednecks, who have wind-burned skin and mullets and who insist on a juke box filled with Patsy Cline and Ted Nugent. He might even make announcements on the availability of pull-tabs.
So to see Uncle Kracker striking out on his own—or at least getting out from behind most of Kid Rock’s looming shadow—is a bit disconcerting. It seems out of place somehow. Yet, I find myself cheering him on, rooting for the underdog, hoping that he can move beyond the profoundly limited intellectual and artistic range of his mentor and friend. And this, too, is a bit disconcerting—like wanting Eliza Doolittle to succeed precisely by not learning to use correct English grammar.
And so, here he is, in all his understated glory, the most unlikely TRL hottie since Fred Durst, scoring a major hit with “Follow Me”, a suprisingly un-Kid Rock-like single that has established him as an artist in his own right. This is probably deserved as, in some ways, the student has surpassed the teacher on Double Wide. Kracker’s style is smooth and often soothing, even when I get the feeling it’s supposed to be edgy. But that’s okay. The album is still sorta charming in its own white-trash way, and I can’t honestly claim that I would turn the dial if one of its looming singles came on the radio. And even though this doesn’t come off as perhaps the most glowing of endorsements, it actually kinda is. If you listen carefully, you can hear everything from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Run DMC in there, not to mention a healthy dose of Hank Williams Jr., and this is clearly the appeal of the album. Consider it a music history education without the boring text books.
While most of Double Wide is worth the effort it takes to get past the personnel involved in its recording, it does suffer from a few reoccurring problems, the most obvious of which is that it sounds far more like a collection of singles than it does a cohesive, unified piece of music. While I’m always one to appreciate a variety of styles and while I’ve always loved artists who have the balls to wear their influences on their proverbial sleeves, it’s hard to think of Double Wide as an album that was meant to be listened to from start to finish. It seems much more likely that it will end up in that clump of CDs that only get played at parties, when you want to hear “that one song”. This is perhaps understandable, considering the marketing savvy of Kid Rock—who co-wrote eleven songs on Double Wide and produced all but one track; it’s not a bad strategy, with such a finicky demo to appeal to, to make sure that as many songs as possible have the potential to become"that one song”. It’s just a bit sad for the marketing of an album to be as obvious as its sound.
It’s not suprising, given Kracker’s difficulty in integrating all the styles he obviously wants to play with, that the second major problem with Double Wide seems to be in transitioning from the often rough, rap-heavy verses into the more vocally polished choruses, and then back again. The choppiness of these transitions seems particularly pronounced in “What ‘Chu Lookin’ At?” “Who’s Your Uncle”, and “Heaven” (which features Kid Rock and Paradime, and which suggests that Heaven is “a lot like Detroit” while Hell must bear striking resemblance to Salt Lake City). However, it is a general problem that runs throughout Double Wide. Perhaps Uncle Kracker will get better with time, but it’s clear that this whole rap/rock fusion trend has been easier for—and on—some than for others. Kracker is an other.
Still, Double Wide will please all the white suburban boys who enjoy the “urban” rebellion in rap/rock, and their girlfriends will be charmed by Kracker’s unassuming baby face. It’s just that neither of these groups are particularly discriminating. And I still have a hard time thinking of Uncle Kracker as an MTV staple instead of a juke joint regular.