Counting Crows’ “August and Everything After” (1993) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-04-25 22:40:17. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  3.5 / 5 stars

If you’re compiling a list of the best debut albums by nineties rock bands, August and Everything After certainly deserves a place beside other great first releases like Cracked Rear View (Hootie & the Blowfish) and Gordon (Barenaked Ladies).

The question is, of course, just how high it should place.

There is no question that Adam Duritz and company establish a characteristic sound on this album, a sound that formed a solid foundation for their career.  Duritz’s vocals are such an important component — perhaps the key component — of the band’s sound that the instrumentation and background vocals have very little wriggle room to achieve a fitting mix.  In that sense, August and Everything After highlights the configuration that has clicked: a largely acoustic arrangement with subdued electric guitars.  mandolins, and the Hammond B-3 filling in the gaps in all the right places.

As a band, the Counting Crows strike the rare balance between sounding as if they are playing off the cuff and as though every note is planned and purposeful.  Steve Bowman’s drums seem to be the pin holding all the other aspects together, rising and falling in tempo and volume as each song unfolds.

What holds this album back from true greatness is its adherence to this arrangement.  On first listen, several of these songs could blend together in the listener’s memory, as the band seems more concerned with stretching out and getting comfortable than ripping any of these songs apart and driving them home.

Counting Crows' "August and Everything After" (1993)

Counting Crows' "August and Everything After" (1993)

Still, there are some absolute gems here, and Duritz clearly established himself as one of the most unique, interesting, and versatile vocalists on record.  “Round Here,” for instance, is the perfect specimen of a Counting Crows track, a moving song that set the bar high for all of their songs to come. 

On “Omaha” — a song that always conjures BnL’s excellent “Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank for me — they take it up a notch.  “Mr. Jones” provides the proof that the Counting Crows were destined for radio hits, if on their own terms.  This is no cookie cutter pop song; instead, it settles in at some points and rocks out at others.

Later, Duritz and company treat the listener to two gems, “Rain King” for those looking for an infusion of rock and “Anna Begins” for those more inclined to the heartbreaking beauty that few songs pull off so poignantly.

After this, August and Everything After requires patience to fully appreciate its purpose.  There are some standout deep tracks like “Perfect Blue Buildings” and “Time and Time Again,” but these songs would probably benefit from having a minute or so trimmed off.  And this is not my pitch with A&R in mind, hoping to appeal to the masses.  Rather, I have to believe that if a song doesn’t offer something significantly different or compelling for the listener after three minutes or so, then it’s time to reign it in.

“Sullivan Street” needs not fall under scrutiny, though: this is a flawless deep track that deserves all four and a half minutes of its duration.

The remainder of the album suffers a bit from the self-indulgence most prevalent here on the final two or three tracks.  There are some moments of brilliance, and yet at other times, you might be left wondering when the song will be over.

Perhaps mine are the antsy rantings of an impatient man, but I’d like to believe not.  And I have a great respect for this album.  After all, it is a debut, and one that is imbued with such honesty, passion, beauty, and potential that there must have been no question of the great work that was to come from this young band.

(To be certain their follow-up release, Recovering the Satellites, more than makes good on the promise implicit in that aforementioned potential!)

Music Reviews: Counting Crows – “Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings” (2008)

Originally posted 2008-08-10 01:39:35. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  4.5 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

In his personal liner notes, Adam Duritz thanks several people for “sticking by our vision for this album in the face of pretty much universal disapproval. Records SHOULD be what they’re MEANT to be.” In many ways, these notes help to tie Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings to the much larger tradition of the concept album.

Consider the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, arguably the first concept album. The Fab Four had to lock themselves away from all other distractions – including photo shoots and even live concert tours – to make what many consider to be their masterpiece. The Moody Blues were never meant to record Days of Future Passed; it was only as a result of convincing their producer to change course that this classic concept album was created. Brian Wilson arguably lost his mind in the pursuit of SMiLE, his masterpiece of an incomplete concept album that drew him back into the studio four decades later to finish it.

To compare this new Counting Crows album with the best of the Beatles, Moody Blues, and Beach Boys would be misguided; it is simply too recent to hold up to the classics. Still, this is one of the Counting Crows’ most compelling offerings and perhaps the strongest album of the year. Why, you ask? Not only do the songs shine – rocking and reflecting at the appropriate times – respectively, but the album concept unites each separate thread into a larger thought that holds up after and indeed invites multiple listens.

The album opens – rather, explodes – with the first track’s thundering drum roll and massive distortion guitar. “1492” is a personal narrative that establishes the setting and the narrator’s “dark Italian underground” exploits in a private world of “disco lights,” sexual encounters with “skinny girls,” and “mornings spreading out across the feathered thighs of angels.” Duritz’s songs have often shown interest in angelic imagery – consider his band’s first hit with “Angels of the Silences,” for one – but the imagery is tipped on its head for this album. Initially, the darkness is shocking. It is darkness that leads to the repeated question in the chorus, “Where do we disappear?” The narrator’s personal history becomes intertwined with an interesting take on Columbus and the events of 1492, a final chorus about the “people who impersonate our friends,” and then, with a final bang on the drums and harsh down stroke on the strings of the electric guitar, it’s over just as abruptly as it started.

The first half of the album is devoted to the Saturday Nights portion of the concept. The “dizzy life” that is described in “Hanging Tree” is further fleshed out in the scene-setting “Los Angeles,” and more personal details are divulged in “Sundays” – an opening mention of “coloured rubbers” followed by a description of the narrator’s conception (“My mother made me out of flesh and wine”) leads to the choral confession that he doesn’t believe in Sundays. Time and again on this first half of the album, the songs are rock n’ roll through and through; solos and driving beats are par for the course. And yet this is not at the expense of artistry. Duritz’s imagery is poetic and pulls no punches; the reference to Sundays conjures religious imagery, and although he professes not to believe in them, these tracks smack of a trip to a confessional.

The final two tracks of the Saturday Nights portion make good on the promise of “1492.” With “Insignificant,” he returns to that feeling of disappearance, declaring “I don’t want to be insignificant.” “Cowboys,” the sixth and final track of the first half, provides the perfect transition as Duritz sings, “I’ll wait for you as Saturday’s a memory, and Sunday comes to gather me into the arms of God Who’ll welcome me because I believe, oh, I believe…” This is a shift from his statements in “Sundays” and brings God directly into the picture. Duritz’s final words of the track set a mission statement of sorts for the remainder of the album – “Oh, I will make you look at me… Or I am not anything.”

So ends the Saturday Nights segment of the album; the Sunday Mornings portion begins with the subdued acoustic picking, gently fingered piano, and deliberately plucked standup bass of “Washington Square.” Harmonica and a distant electric guitar join the sound of the largely acoustic arrangement of “On Almost Any Sunday Morning.” The lyrics fit the tone of the music aptly, sparse and raw as they are. It is interesting to note that both of these tracks were written by Duritz alone, perhaps adding to the personal feel of these tracks.

Just as “Washington Square” and “On Almost Any Sunday Morning” are songs of despair and desolation, the next two tracks find the narrator beginning to pick up the pieces. In “When I Dream of Michelangelo” Duritz sings, “I want a white bread life, just something ignorant and plain, but from the walls of Michelangelo I’m dangling again.” In a sense, the conception of the album is explained through this song, even as the narrator sings of that connection to the great painter. This brings many aspects together, most notably the religious imagery and the desire of an artist to communicate. “Anyone But You” kicks off with a haunting organ and quickly falls under the domain of a steady drum beat. The message of this track? Well, although he admits “I’m almost ready – it’s almost true – for almost anyone but you,” he ends up returning repeatedly to the simple statement, “I think about you.”

It is in this song that the album really comes together. Even as drums return to the mix for the first time since the transition to the Sunday Mornings section, the singer’s dilemma is clear: after his wild “Saturday nights” and his reflections on his life, God, angels, women, and more, he can only think of this one unnamed woman.

In the next track, the truth comes clearly crashing down.

“You Can’t Count On Me,” the first single from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, lays it all out there – the narrator clearly addresses that aforementioned woman (described here as “just my toy and I can’t stop playing with you, baby”), and he admits that “There’s just one thing you need to know and that’s that you can’t count on me.” Not exactly a declaration of love and selfless devotion, this clearly carries with it the same blatant, raw honesty that the previous tracks have been imbued with.

From the opening chords, “Le Ballet D’Or” plays out like a dream sequence characterized by Duritz’s reflections and realizations. These set up what is perhaps the most minimalist track on the album; Charlie Gillingham’s piano and Adam Duritz’s vocals are all that you get with “On a Tuesday in Amsterdam Long Ago.” The vocals, probably the most raw of the record, lead up to the ragged, repetitive pleading by Duritz – “Come back to me.”

The album might have left off on this note, leaving the resolution open ended and the final note a somber one. Instead, the next track begins deceptively with an acoustic guitar and piano that fade momentarily before being replaced by the first distortion guitar since “Cowboys” and perhaps the most rousing drum beat and bass line of the album. Duritz’s voice returns to form as he leads the band in “Come Around,” the only track on Sunday Mornings not produced by James Brown. Rather, this track was produced by Gil Norton, the producer for the six tracks of Saturday Nights.

Thus, “Come Around” effectively brings this concept full circle, promising in the chorus “We’ll still come around.” Yes, there is pain on the Sunday mornings…

But that won’t stop Duritz from coming back to the Saturday nights time and again. If nothing else, they certainly make for good songwriting – and this concept makes for a rocking, raw, and overall excellent album.

“American Girls” (Counting Crows Cover)

Originally posted 2008-09-01 14:29:13. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Happy Labor Day to one and all!  I’ve always thought that it was interesting that there is very little “labor” accomplished on Labor day, but I suppose it’s more an appreciation and celebration of all the labor that is done on the other 364 days of the year.  Regardless, I’m not complaining that I don’t have to work on this beautiful, sunny day — what a magnificent first day of September it is, at least here in good ole Connecticut, USA!

And September 1st is not only Labor Day, but it’s also the birthday of my girlfriend, Nicole.  So, to help her celebrate it, I figured there’s no better way than choosing and recording a song for my music video today that she would love.  This is actually a song that I just played her for the first time a couple of days ago, and she immediately loved it.  “American Girls” is the second track on the Counting Crows’ Hard Candy album.  It’s notable for being one of two songs from this album to make the greatest hits.  Although it was a very mild hit, I think it’s a great song.  And I can’t believe that it took me years to figure out that Sheryl Crow contributes the background vocals!  I picked up this album used from FYE a couple weeks ago and figured that out as I read the liner notes.  It was definitely a “Duh” moment…

The album is one of those that starts extremely strong — the first four tracks are simply amazing.  “Hard Candy” starts off the album and the first couple lines are among my favorite that Duritz has ever written.  Then comes “American Girls.”  The third track, “Good Time,” is not anything special, I suppose, but I really like it.  And I love “Richard Manuel is Dead.”  Those first four tracks are a tour de force.  Then, the next few tracks slow it down, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it never really picks back up to the quality of those first four tracks.  So, while I like the album, I can’t really fall in love with it.  It’s one of those albums that, by track eight, you’re fighting the temptation to skip back to track one.

But, if you buy this album, don’t flip back to the first track without hearing the last track, “Holiday in Spain”!  It’s one of my favorite songs from the Counting Crows.  It starts off with just piano and Duritz’s vocals, and gradually builds up to a triumphant final verse and chorus.  For those of you who don’t know me, I just love it when a song begins with no drums or minimal drums, then really kicks into high gear!  For instance, that’s probably why “Pretty (Ugly Before)” is my favorite Elliott Smith song on From a Basement on the Hill.

Well, that’s enough music commentary for one day.  I’m off to have some lunch, celebrate Nicole’s birthday, celebrate Jim’s groundbreaking new purchase (I’m sure he’ll tell you all about it in his next post!), and try to get some work done amidst all the excitement…

See you next session!



“You Can’t Count On Me” (A Counting Crows Cover)

Originally posted 2008-06-03 23:15:28. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to another all-new Laptop Session! Today’s selection is “You Can’t Count On Me,” from the Counting Crows’ new album, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings. This record is a concept album of sorts, as Adam Duritz sings his way from a raucous Saturday night out on the town to a Sunday morning of realizations. I’ve been really excited about recording a tune from this album — there’s been a lot of good new music this year so far, but this has been one of my favorite albums. To be honest, I didn’t know much about Duritz and company, but I have a lot of respect for him as a songwriter and a performer after listening repeatedly to the album.

I hope you like my cover song version of this song, and if you do, you should check out the official in-the-studio videos posted on the Counting Crows YouTube channel. And don’t forget to come back to http://LaptopSessions.com tomorrow for another quality video blog post from our very own Jeff Copperthite…

See you next session!