“I’m a suburban kid, but I grew up on a dirt road. I still live on a dirt road, a block from the street I grew up on. I’d kinda say I’m full-on Midwest, but that’s not actually an accurate description either, ‘cause I’ve traveled around so much. I can tell you this, though: those guys who have the jacked up trucks, they laugh at a lot of the same stuff I do – because at the end of the day, a good time is a good time wherever you go.”
Midnight Special his Sugar Hill label debut bottles that notion up. No matter where you are, how hard life might be or what you dream, Uncle Kracker believes the most powerful thing you can do is celebrate the now. Whether it’s the dumped-but-loving-the-future “Nobody’s Sad on a Saturday Night,” the gone for the weekend “In Between Disasters” or the Tom Petty-feeling small town truth behind what people reveal “It Is What It Is,” Uncle Kracker’s conversational baritone cuts through the mix to put life in perspective.
“I laugh all day seems like,” says the man actually named Matt Shafer. “I think I laugh all the time. From the time I wake up ‘til I go to bed, it seems like there’s always something to laugh about! People are funny: the way they do the things they do. Things are funny. I think living is funny to be honest…”
That easy-going ability to take life as it comes has given Uncle Kracker a place in Country (with the Top 10 hit “Smile”), Pop (“Drift Away,” his Dobie Gray redux that featured Gray on vocals, set a Billboard record for most weeks at #1 on any chart, topping their Adult Contemporary chart for 28 weeks), Rock (“Follow Me,” from the double platinum Double Wide, was a Top 5 hit)and as a D.J./vocalist in rock/rap icon Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker Band. Then there was “When the Sun Goes Down,” the #1 Country hit that sat on top of the charts for 6 weeks with friend and sometimes tour mate Kenny Chesney plus the multi-format smash hit “All Summer Long” which he co-wrote with Kid Rock.
“There’s stuff to take serious,” he continues. “But it doesn’t make sense to give too much of a damn. Take it as it comes. It’s pretty simple. I’m trying to lift people’s spirits… Make’em feel good ‘cause everybody needs that.”
Working with acclaimed producer Keith Stegall (Alan Jackson, Zac Brown Band, George Jones), the pair had one rule going into the studio: “If you can’t sing it with an acoustic guitar, we’re not cutting it.”
The result is a collection of songs that move from “Nuthin’ Changes,” a white trash homage to Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good,” to the soul-shuffle “Happy,” which wishes an old girlfriend well to the plucky countryfied “You Got That Thang,” that’s equal parts taunt and invitation. There’s the crunchy clever “Four Letter Word,” with its stinging guitar and serious backbeat, capturing the manic nature of can’t-live-with-or-without’em relationships.
But what stands out most is how solid Uncle Kracker’s voice is throughout. Always a salty, but welcoming vocal presence, Stegall challenged the singer to really come to the table with his delivery.
“In Detroit, maybe it’s more about looking cool than stretching,” Uncle Kracker allows. “I mean, my first album was gonna be a rap record, so I’ve grown a lot in 12 years.”