Review : Counting Crows - Underwater Sunshine
PopmattersYou gotta hear this new Counting Crows album, they sound like a BAND!
Which, I know, is a silly and possibly rockist thing to say, but sometimes you just want guys playing their instruments together with creativity and joy. (I’d say “women” too, but the Crows aren’t so integrated.) For Underwater Sunshine (or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation), the Crows’ first album on indie label Cooking Vinyl, they’ve recorded 15 covers with as fine a sense of group interplay as you’ll find outside the jazz world.
“Covers?” I hear you say with some alarm. “Isn’t this the band who blighted the Two Weeks Notice soundtrack with a terrible version of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, itself a pretty bad song?” Yes, over the course of their respectable 20 year career, the Crows have left behind them a smattering of cloying idiocy for which they’ll one day have to answer. Not here, though. They’ve picked a fine assortment of songs. There’s sinister folk from Fairport Convention, whose record What We Did On Our Holidays provided half this album’s title. There’s pop both Brit- and power- from the likes of Travis, Teenage Fanclub, and Big Star. Dylan and the Band show up, as you’d expect, but also the Faces and Pure Prairie League. And the Crows have dug up plenty of songs by lesser known acts, including bands that include moonlighting Counting Crows. Several alt-country snoozes aside, these are smart choices...full text
ConsequenceofsoundAdam Duritz has never been shy about the music he loves. Between the showstopping rendition of Van Morrison’s “Caravan” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, annual covers-heavy Shim Sham Club shows around the century’s turn, and last year’s All My Bloody Valentines seven-covers-in-seven-days solo project, Counting Crows fans have regularly been privy to what the dreadlocked frontman spins at home. Underwater Sunshine (a play on The Soft Boys’ classic Underwater Moonlight, another Duritz favorite) mixes live staples, pop classics, and more recent material, offering the latest enjoyable, if inconsistent, glimpse into Duritz’s record collection.
Underwater Sunshine doesn’t reward listeners with definitive versions or perfect takes. Rather, it’s sprinkled with “keeper” moments and variations (subtle and not so) on originals that feel just right: The Band-esque chorus harmonies on “Meet on the Ledge” (Fairport Convention); Charlie Gillingham’s intermingled keys and swapping out electric guitar for David Immerglück’s mandolin on the bridge of “Start Again” (Teenage Fanclub); and an amped, country-rock take on “Return of the Grievous Angel” (Gram Parsons).
Moody standout “Like Teenage Gravity” (Kasey Anderson) is the record’s most realized effort. Guitars meander while Duritz’s pining voice perfectly delivers lines he could have penned, like “If it feels like fallin’, boy, you probably already fell.” It’s Duritz at his best—a grown man who still soars and crashes like a teenager with each girl who comes and goes—wandering and confused until he finally finds the words, “So, I guess I’m in love.” The way the phrase “round here” (used throughout the song) rolls off his tongue still touches a nerve after all these years.
The longest-tenured Crows revisit their past bands and early days in the San Francisco scene on tracks “Mercy”, “Four White Stallions” (both by Tender Mercies), and “Jumping Jesus” (Sordid Humor), but none of these nostalgic trips trump the many live versions already available. Classics like “Ooh La La” (Faces) and “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” (Bob Dylan) are much more memorable. The band sounds like a bunch of kids trying to play songs they heard on the radio, with Duritz hamming it up and playfully deferring to bandmates (“Charlie!”, “A-everybody sing,” or “Go on, Immy. Bang, bang, bang!”). And that’s the appeal of so many of Duritz’s favorite songs. You put them on, “and you soon will find, you’re just a boy again.”...full text
CovermesongsWhen a band hasn’t released a studio album of new music in four years, and then puts out an album made up entirely of cover songs, you might expect their fans to get restless. For Counting Crows fans, though, Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation) is no less sweet because the band didn’t write the songs. Lead singer Adam Duritz and the gang have been doing covers, in full or sneakily added as bridges in live shows, since their inception. And, as Duritz says in the liner notes, “I’ve never stopped being a fan” of other people’s music.
That might explain the song selection here, as many of the originals are relatively obscure. If there’s one thing we’ve always known about the Crows, though, it’s that their musical taste is as all-embracing as it is impeccable. Alongside Gram Parsons’ “Return of the Grievous Angel” and Pure Prairie League’s “Amie,” you’ve got album opener “Untitled (Love Song)” by unknowns the Romany Rye. All three songs are given similar treatment: country-tinged, high energy, electrified rock. Although none of their arrangements here are very surprising, the Counting Crows fully own these songs, making them sound fresh and new. The album was recorded live in the studio with minimal overdubs, and the songs that come off the best are the ones that showcase the exhilaration of a group that knows it’s nailing the perfect take. “Angel” and “Amie,” with lots of high intensity and band interplay, are two excellent examples.
Teenage Fanclub’s slow-building “Start Again” has killer harmonies reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash. “Hospital,” a cover of a demo by another unknown, Coby Brown, might be the most angular song in the Crows’ repertoire. Dave Bryson’s electric guitar tears in and out of the song, and Duritz’s voice is filled with desperation as he shouts the lyrics. Their version of Travis’ “Coming Around” is another song just a step off the beaten path for the Crows, with its falsetto chorus and lurching drum beat. Their jangling, feel-good treatment of Faces’ “Ooh La La” doesn’t change much from the original, but it suits Duritz’s voice perfectly and is another example how well these guys can make a song their own....full text
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