Uncle Kracker Serves Up 'Happy Hour'
Credit: Chapman Baehler

Uncle Kracker closes a five-year gap between albums with the Sept. 15 release of "Happy Hour," his fourth full-length effort and first outing since "Seventy Two and Sunny" in 2004.

"Smile," the first single from the 12-song set -- and "probably the most positive song I've ever written," Uncle Kracker tells Billboard.com -- is streaming at his official web site, unclekracker.com. "Happy Hour" was produced mostly by Rob Cavallo, with one track produced by Kid Rock ("Good to Be Me") and another by S*A*M & Sluggo ("Hot Mess").

"It's a pop-rock record, still with a little country (and) soul fused through it -- not a big departure from anything I've done before," Uncle Kracker (real name Matt Shafer) reports. "There's more uptempo than there is on my last three records. I'm pretty stoked about it."

Uncle Kracker, whose greatest success came with his hit 2002 remake of Dobie Gray's "Drift Away," says that he actually recorded an entirely different album about three years ago but ultimately "wasn't really convinced that I had the right record." He wound up scrapping the set and went to work with Cavallo, who he says "kicked my ass...There was a lot of cussin' going on at first. It took me out of my comfort zone. It took me out of everything I knew and backed me into a corner pretty much. Everything just felt different, but I got to a point where I thought different was better for me. I couldn't be happier, to tell you the truth."

Uncle Kracker wrote two songs on the album ("Good to Be Me" and "I Hate California") with Brett James, who co-wrote "When the Sun Goes Down," his 2004 hit with Kenny Chesney, and another, "Corner Bar," with Martin "Tino" Gross of Detroit's Howling Diablo. The latter features Dave Matthews Band trumpeter Rashawn Ross.

The overall tone of "Happy Hour," he says, "is pretty positive in light of everything that's going on in the world," and certainly in comparison to "Seventy Two and Sunny," which dealt with since-resolved problems in his home life. "I made a conscious decision to try something positive. It's what I needed. it's a positive spin on everything."

Uncle Kracker plans to film a video for "Smile" during the 4th of July weekend in Michigan. A promotional tour is being set up, and he's hoping to launch an extensive concert tour in the fall. Uncle Kracker knows he's been out of sight for longer than he anticipated, but he's confident fans will still turn out for "Happy Hour."

"When I do play I see 'em," he notes. "I see people come out and people come up and we get emails and the fan mail. I know the people that are there are still there. You just always hope to pick up a few more along the way. It doesn't concern me much, really -- not as much as it may concern other people, I guess."