Uncle Kracker is all smiles over his upbeat 4th album
BY BRIAN McCOLLUM
FREE PRESS POP MUSIC WRITER
And finally Uncle Kracker had the revelation: He needed to remember how to have fun again.
It took half a decade to get to "Happy Hour," the Detroit pop artist's fourth album and his first since 2004's "Seventy Two and Sunny." For three years, release dates got penciled in, then quietly scratched off as the onetime Kid Rock protg labored to craft a batch of songs that satisfied him.
"It was weird -- I was chasing the same record for years," he says. "I finally just canned it and tried again."
The revamped "Happy Hour," released in September, captures the upbeat vibe of Kracker's debut album, "Double Wide," the surprise hit that propelled him away from Kid Rock's turntables and into the solo limelight.
"I'd lost the fun that I was used to, actually. I kept hitting this middle-of-the-road, ballad-y type thing," Kracker says of his intervening work. "I needed to veer in a different direction. This record is a little more relevant -- it's got a more fun, positive vibe."
Last week the 35-year-old Mt. Clemens native embarked on a tour with the San Francisco band Train, a monthlong opening stint that will be followed by a 2010 loaded with touring, including a likely headlining run in the summer. The tour will bring him to Royal Oak Music Theatre on Tuesday.
Kracker is already zeroing in on the new material that clicks best onstage, including midtempo tunes like "Good to Be Me," "My Girlfriend" and lead single "Smile," which is at No. 8 and climbing on Billboard's adult pop chart. It's already his best-charting tune since his 2003 cover of Dobie Gray's "Drift Away" cracked the top 10 in 2003.
They're quintessential Uncle Kracker: good-natured pop tunes loosely dressed in classic-rock clothing. It's the same formula that has met success via his collaborations with his good friend Rock, most notably last year's blockbuster hit "All Summer Long."
"He's writing some really, really good songs," says Michael McCoy, program director at Detroit station WKQI-FM (95.5). " 'Smile is just a great record. Kracker is good at really delivering songs that have an emotional appeal. And that's really what makes a hit."