Whenever a well established band announces that their next album is to be all covers, I always think Uh-Oh, what's going on here? Are they going to come out with 'it was time to revisit the songs we grew up on', or 'we wanted to re-interpret the songs of our heroes in our own inimitable style', which usually means they sound like those old Top Of The Pops LP's from the 70s; the ones with a bikini-clad dolly bird on the sleeve.
So, when 'Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation)', the first Counting Crows album in four years, popped through the letter box I was a little bit worried, to say the least, that it might be another Styx 'Big Bang Theory', or Dylan's 'Self Portrait', a substandard waste of plastic. However, looking at the tracklist made me wonder that this might be something a little different.
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Yes, there are songs by Dylan, The Faces, and Gram Parsons, but a number of the tracks are by lesser known artists, such as The Romany Rye, plus a few songs from the likes of Teenage Fanclub, and Travis, who sonically are not that close to The Crows.
A couple are not full covers, as they were originally performed by pre-Crows bands Sordid Humor and Tender Mercies. So all in all a wide ranging choice of interesting material, and an intriguing sound take on the covers album idea. But how does it fare when blasting out from the speakers?
The quick review is "it fares pretty damned well", but that won't fill any column inches, so I'll give a bit more away. The first track up is 'Untitled (Love Song)', and it's a great opener to the album being a mid paced rocker with a catchy chorus of "Throw your arms around my neck", and after listening to the soulful playing of the band topped by Adam Duritz's passionate singing, I certainly wanted the woman I love to give me a big hug, and more!
The overall sound of this song pretty much captures the feel of the whole album, with its swirls of Hammond organ, and guitars reminiscent of The Band at their rootsy best. Other tracks have a more country rock vibe about them, particularly the 'Amie' originally by Yee-Haw merchants Pure Prairie League, and their take on Gram Parsons' classic 'Return Of The Grievous Angel'.
There is a real sense of fun about this album, and it sounds like the band had a great time performing these songs. Nowhere is this more apparent than on their rollicking run through Dylan's 'You Ain't Going Nowhere', which really does bring a smile to the face. Other highlights are a lovely, soulful performance of 'Start Again', and a very moving 'Meet On The Ledge'.
There are a few weaker moments, mainly the Travis ditty 'Coming Around', which lacks the energy, and fire of the other tracks. It just does not really fit in stylistically with the rest of the tunes on the album.
'Underwater Sunshine' is great fun to listen to and it made me want to investigate the originals of those songs that I was not already familiar with, so job done!
It's got an eclectic range of tunes, excellent playing and singing, and that adds up to a highly enjoyable rock and roll album, guaranteed to get you dancing and smiling. It's not a classic like 'August And Everything After', but it's full of fun and soul and after 20+ years together demonstrates that Counting Crows are still passionate about music.
I can't wait to hear the next album of Crow's originals, and hope it's not another four year wait!
1. Untitled (Love Song) by The Romany Rye
2. Start Again by Teenage Fanclub
3. Hospital by Coby Brown
4. Mercy by Tender Mercies
5. Meet On The Ledge by Fairport Convention
6. Like Teenage Gravity by Kasey Anderson & The Honkies
7. Amie by Pure Prairie League
8. Coming Around by Travis
9. Ooh La La by The Faces
10. All My Failures by Dawes
11. Return of the Grievous Angel by Gram Parsons
12. Four White Stallions by Tender Mercies
13. Jumping Jesus by Sordid Humor
14. You Ain't Going Nowhere by Bob Dylan
15. The Ballad of El Goodo by Big Star
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