[21 January 2003]
Uncle Kracker is a difficult artist to categorize; he’s had rock and rap hits with Kid Rock, played with the pop fuelled Sugar Ray, and had his very own top three smash hit with R&B favorite, “Follow Me”. The Uncle’s new album, No Stranger to Shame, continues this genre shifting and could easily get away with placement on record shelves under blues, rock, country, bluegrass, soul or pop. Wherever you stick it, though, there’s no denying Stranger is one inventive, electrifying piece of work.
Recorded above law offices in Mount Clemens, Michigan in the winter of 2001 following a performance for US troops in Germany, Stranger is a perfect follow up to Uncle’s double platinum Double Wide (2000) and features some of the most progressive country, soul and rock around, as well as a revamped classic, a hard and fast rap number and a track inspired by the best of ‘80s hip-hop.
Uncle’s unique vocals easily twist, jump and convulse to fit each of these styles so much so that he never seems out of place—or out of his depth—when attempting any of them. His voice, arrangements and polished harmonies are as natural on a careful, loving bluegrass track (“Memphis Soul Song”) as they are screaming out obscenities (“After School Special”). And, he has the unwavering confidence to pull it all off.
Opener “I Do” is a perfect piece of country-funk complete with slick guitar work and raging horns. The song is unrelentingly infectious, with Uncle’s vocal twang making it easy to forget this man used to be Kid Rock’s number one go-to guy. “To Think I Used to Love You”, “I Wish I Had a Dollar”, and the excellent “In A Little While” do exactly the same thing, tugging at the heartstrings this time though remaining firmly planted in the roots of down-home country rock. The anthemic “Thunderhead Hawkins” finds its feet, instead, in soul and bluegrass, with “Memphis Soul Song” close by.
These songs all have an ultra-contemporary feel, and while Uncle not only adjusts his voice to suit each genre, he also succeeds in adjusting his poetics, singing about the loneliness of Texas or Boston before discussing the claustrophobia of Los Angeles and the world stage.
And he switches gears again on the album’s two rap tracks. “Keep It Comin’” and “After School Special” both address Uncle’s detractors and those who may think he’s a flash in the pan riding on the Rock’s coattails. All traces of the sweet soul vocal of the rest of the album are gone replaced with a cultivated rap vocal sounding bizarrely like Sir Mix-A-Lot. Both relatively straightforward and usual “I rule so fuck off”-type songs, it’s Uncle’s expert arrangements (including mixing in a little R&B on the chorus of “Keep”) that give the tracks that extra drive.
With No Stranger to Shame, Uncle Kracker has pulled off one hell of an album. He is, quite simply, a one-man musical powerhouse who could readily pull off anything he attempts with a steadfast belief in his abilities and the shit to back it up.