Counting Crows were never remotely this good again.
Chris White 2008-02-22
For a brief period in the early 1990s, San Francisco's Counting Crows were one of the most critically acclaimed bands on the planet. Led by the charismatic and literate Adam Duritz, the six-piece developed a winning blend of rootsy, country-rock arrangements and instantly catchy choruses, invoking the spirit of many of America's musical greats from The Band and the Eagles to Springsteen and R.E.M.
Their legacy is based largely on just one record, 1993's universally lauded debut album August And Everything After. After seeing their career slowly peter out since, it's perhaps inevitable that the group has released a re-packaged deluxe edition of their defining moment in the absence of any new material of consequence, with the added lure of bonus tracks and a live CD to seduce the die-hards. The question is, have Counting Crows at their best stood the test of time well?
Generally the answer is yes. Global hit single, Mr Jones, is as infectious as ever, Round Here remains an affecting portrayal of small town ennui and Sullivan Street soars triumphantly. These are big songs performed with confidence and poise by some accomplished musicians, not least front man Duritz, whose anguished vocals and Dylanesque imagery are central to proceedings throughout. Raining In Baltimore, a stately piano-led ballad reminiscent of a more earnest Randy Newman, slows the pace to allow him the room to deliver a performance that's arguably the record's high point. The first disc is rounded off by six bonus tracks, including a cover of Woody Guthrie’s seminal This Land is Your Land, all of which are pleasant without matching up to the album proper.
Considering Counting Crows' reputation as a somewhat anaemic live act, the second disc, recorded at the Elysee Montmartre, Paris in 1994, is surprisingly impressive. While some renditions, like the 15 minute-long A Murder Of One, are bloated and self-indulgent, others, notably Rain King and the elegiac, organ-heavy Perfect Blue Buildings, actually improve on the studio versions.
Few artists have released debut albums with the immense assurance of August and Everything After. It showcases a band that strode boldly into the limelight with their sound already meticulously honed and fully-formed, yet it can be argued that by getting things so right first time out, they left themselves creatively spent with nowhere to go next - Counting Crows were never remotely this good again.