Cover albums can send two types of messages:
- A band has gone to the well too many times and needs to release something, anything, to stay afloat.
- A band wants to pay it forward, showing the influences received and maybe get a few new fans to otherwise less known bands.
Call me naive, but I usually expect the second choice, probably because I’m a bit of a pollyanna. Add to this the fact that Counting Crows is a band I respect (i.e. adore) quite a bit and I’m probably already showing a bias for Underwater Sunshine (or what we did on our summer vacation). It’s bias well deserved, though.
Counting Crows is not new to covers. Since their humble beginnings, they loved to jam out to Van Morrison (‘Caravan’ was a fave one) and they loved to insert the odd bit of either their own songs (or from Sordid Humor) and do a spot on mash up during their gigs, something they still do to this very date (like when they mixed a bit of Beatles in their gig in Sheffield in 2009).
In a nuthell, the band will do a good cover not in a carbon copy sort of way, nor will it completely deconstruct it like Xiu Xiu did to Queen‘s ‘Under pressure’ or Sun Kil Moon did to ‘Space travel is boring’ (fantastic covers, though). No. The band will show the love they have for the song whilst grafting their own signature sound.
Oh, wait, we’re talking about Underwater sunshine (or what we did on our summer vacation), 15 love letters from Duritz and company. His unforgettable voice is deftly backed up as always by his peers, all of them clearly having a good ol’ time. ‘Amie’ makes me want to do a little jig, ‘Meet on the ledge’ is lighter (or mobile phone) time and the end of ‘Oh la la’ is endearing)
There’s two fantastic covers that should catch your attention here. One is Dawes’ ‘All my failures’, getting that country rock treatment with a heavy serving of jamming to increase its mojo. The other one is Fairport Conventions’ ‘Meet on the ledge’. The guitar solo and the organ atmospheres just skyrocket this cover to the rarefied atmospheres (say hi to Amy, please).
It’s a well known fact that Adam Duritz loves both Gram Parsons and Big Star. Happy to report that both covers (‘Return of the grievous angels’, ‘The Ballad of el Goodo’) not only do the original justice, they also have a life of its own, with the signature sound of Counting Crows in full stride, the feelings of the songs receiving the utmost encomium possible.
There’s a bit of time for the band to play with a song by one of their members’ alternate project. The song is ‘Four white stallions’ (by Tender Mercies), which gets that alt-country, breezy sound, with that soulful organ and impeccable guitar work (of course!). Sordid Humor gets a perfect cover in ‘Jumping Jesus’, easily a high point in an already superb group of songs. Those bits of string, ah.
If anything, this album is just missing the “heartbreaking piano ballad” that all albums have. I’m thinking ‘Raining in Baltimore’, ‘Miller’s Angels’, ‘Black and Blue’, ‘On a Tuesday in Amsterdam long ago’ or ‘Colorblind’, all emotional kicks to the naughty bits. That’s fine, I’m satisfied with the sadness in ‘Hospital’ (and the whirring noise too!).
One thing that I was always grateful about this band was getting me into Big Star. Underwater sunshine (or what we did on our summer vacation) offers both well known bands (The Band, Bob Dylan, Travis) and not so well known bands that deserve your time and attention (Gram Parsons, Big Star, Sordid Humor, Teenage Fanclub). It’s been 4 years since Saturday nights, Sunday mornings. Please don’t take another four years out, guys.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López