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.
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!)