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Deep Cuts: Counting Crows

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It’s hard to believe Counting Crows have been around for more than a decade now. I remember first hearing “Mr. Jones,” and wondering who the Van Morrison sound-a-like was. But after the second single, “’Round Here,” I had to pick up the album, August and Everything After. Not only did I forget that lead singer Adam Duritz sounds a bit like Morrison, but I absolutely fell in love with this band’s music. Twelve years later, August and Everything After remains one of my favorite albums of all time, and Recovering the Satellites isn’t far behind. Below is a sampling of some of my favorite Crows Deep Cuts that weren’t necessarily hits but represent some of the band’s best work to date.

“Perfect Blue Buildings” – August and Everything After
There is a whole mood to this album that goes way beyond the singles. It’s a mood defined by tasty guitar work and perfectly placed B3 riffs, of syncopated rhythms, and of course the distinctive vocals of Duritz. But more than that, it’s a mood the music puts you in. This track is chill, and paints a vivid picture not only of the lyrics within the song, but to me a vivid picture of where I was 12 years ago when I first heard the record. That is the power of timeless music.

“Anna Begins” – August and Everything After
Another incredible track that defines this particular album, and has the same rhythmic and melodic vibe as “Perfect Blue Buildings.” Toward the end of the song, the chorus is repeated a few times with answering harmonies, creating a really powerful effect.

“Sullivan Street” – August and Everything After
I have a soft spot for this song, because I used to perform it myself in coffeehouses when I lived in Cleveland. It was always a favorite, especially among Crows fans. Very simple chord progressions, melodies, guitars and piano work, along with heartfelt lyrics make this one of the best relatively unknown Crows songs of all.

“Raining in Baltimore” – August and Everything After
Okay, I’ll admit this much: I didn’t take to this song until a few years later when I heard a live version of it. Then I couldn’t stop listening to the original, which is pretty much a piano and vocal song with a few embellishments. As is the case with most of the record, less is more – and it’s rare that songs this simple can be so compelling. And that is the mark of a truly great band.

“Goodnight Elisabeth” – Recovering the Satellites
Another song I performed in coffeehouses to the delight of any diehard Crows fans. It’s a simple song that was essentially an acoustic guitar/vocal track with a few extra guitar licks and an ample rhythm section to anchor it.

“Children in Bloom” – Recovering the Satellites
This is one of the defining songs of Recovering the Satellites, because the album has more going on in each song than on the first album. There are more electric guitar parts, and more polish as a whole on the production to give more of an overall rock vibe. But those cool melodies are still there, and on this song there’s also a really great guitar solo and some amazing bass lines.

“Miller’s Angels” – Recovering the Satellites
A slow, shuffling six-and-half minute piano-driven tune. Most people will recognize the other piano song on this record, “Long December,” which was a single. But “Miller’s Angels,” with its “Hey Romeo” refrain in the chorus, is just as compelling if not even cooler.

“Another Horsedreamer’s Blues” – Recovering the Satellites
This might be my favorite track off the album. It’s drenched in cheesy-but-tasty keys, chiming guitar work, super cool bass lines and even some strings. And when the B3 solo gives way to the last verse, it’s a clinic on how to properly use dynamics in a song from the standpoint of both band and producer.

“Walkaways” – Recovering the Satellites
Just one minute and twelve seconds long, this guitar/vocal gem doesn’t even have a chorus. The song breaks all the rules of traditional songwriting, and that’s what makes it so cool.

“Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” – This Desert Life
Unlike Recovering the Satellites, This Desert Life has more accessible melodies and it seems that the Crows were trying a bit harder to write commercially viable material. This particular track, while over seven minutes long, is the catchiest thing this band had done to this point since “Mrs. Jones” or “Rain King,” but its length probably kept it off the radio.

“Amy Hit the Atmosphere” – This Desert Life
Another shuffling, piano-driven tune, this song combines elements of what made the first two records great. It’s got syncopated rhythms, as did a lot of August and Everything After, but the same kind of polished arrangements and production that made Recovering the Satellites great. And like most Crows tunes, nothing is overbearing. Every guitar part and every piano line is perfectly placed and balanced with the vocals to perfection.

“All My Friends” – This Desert Life
Counting Crows have a way of taking a simple verse and chorus, then adding a bridge that’s completely out of left field, and somehow making it all fit together. This song is a perfect example, a mid-tempo rocker driven by a piano, with haunting guitar parts filling up huge choruses. But the bridge is a diversion similar to the bridge in “’Round Here” – very different melodically but leading right back into the verse.

“If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel Is Dead)” – Hard Candy
You won’t find many folks who remember much of anything about the band’s fourth studio album, Hard Candy. There are quite a few clunkers on this record, but the few tracks that stand out can stand up to anything the Crows have done. This song, despite a ridiculously long title, is one of them.

“Goodnight L.A.” – Hard Candy
A piano ballad that is as good as “Long December” but somehow never really made any noise. This tune is tailor-made for a movie soundtrack. Hell, maybe the band needs to hire me to pitch their stuff…

“Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes to Hollywood)” – Hard Candy
Okay, enough with the long titles and parentheses. “Up All Night” is another song driven by piano and guitars that have an almost Southern rock feel. And the chorus is strong enough to hit you in the gut and knock you over.

“Einstein on the Beach” (For an Eggman) – Films About Ghosts: The Best Of Counting Crows
Originally on a compilation album put out in 1994 by Geffen Records, this song was not intended to be the modern rock smash single that it was. Fans hearing it were probably surprised that they couldn’t find this song on August and Everything After, which was released at almost the same time as the Geffen comp. But it remains one of the Crows’ best songs that was never on an album of theirs until the greatest hits collection.