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Music Review: Counting Crows – Underwater Sunshine (or what we did on our summer vacation)

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Counting Crows have arrived at a place where they can choose to do whatever sort of recording they really want to do. And that is how they came to do Underwater Sunshine (or what we did on our summer vacation), a CD of cover songs that the band loves. They want to bring these songs to new listeners, or present them in a new form for those who may already know and love them.

Personally, I was transported with delight by their versions of Pure Prairie League’s “Amie,” Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” Gram Parson’s “Return of the Grievous Angel” and Fairport Convention’s “Meet Me On the Ledge.” Those four songs alone would have got the CD a rave review from me. They represent strong, well-written Southern rock songs with a California touch.

But Counting Crows did more. They chose 15 songs in total, and every one of them is perfect for the band and a strong song in its own right. I am not familiar with The Romany Rye, but the song covered here, “Untitled (Love Song)” certainly makes me think I should be. The same is true of Coby Brown’s “Hospital,” which sounds as though it was written for Adam Duritz to sing, and the evocative “Like Teenage Gravity” by Kasey Anderson and the Honkies.

Another new favorite for me is “All My Failures,” originally by Dawes. It is a perfect country-rock ballad about acknowledging and overcoming the failures that we all face in our lives.

Other less-known gems that fit together perfectly here are “Mercy” and “Four White Stallions” from Tender Mercies, Sordid Humor’s catchy “Jumping Jesus,” Travis’ “Coming Around” and “The Ballad of El Goodo,” from Big Star, which has never been done better than here (even in the original). The surprise here is the delightful version of The Faces’ “Ooh La La,” which sounds just great with this California/Southern rock twist.

In fact, each of these songs sounds so comfortable and right to me, bringing back memories of the heyday of groups like Pure Prairie League, Marshall Tucker and others, when lyrics and delivery and great instrumental ability combined to make Southern rock such a great soundtrack to my life. This CD is now going to be a part of my listening repertoire in the years to come.

If I were in a group that had been around for a while and had already established its own originality, this is exactly the recording I would want to make: songs I loved that fit my style and might need a larger audience. Congratulations to Counting Crows on a job well done!

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, Southern Crossroads: Georgia Bluesand Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.
  • I’m not saying that any of those songs were originally California/Southern rock; the point is that they are Southern rock on this CD. It’s amazing how well they work with that sound!

  • Rock & Roll Daily

    Nice article, but “Meet on the Ledge” was written by Richard Thompson, who is anything but a “Southern rock song with a California touch” writer. He hails from London and his songs are edgy, dark, ironic, morbid and filled with black humor (or “humour” as the Brits would put it). “Meet on the Ledge” is an early effort from Richard, circa 1968, which has become Fairport Convention’s theme. Not sure how Dylan (Minnesota), Parsons (Florida, but attended Harvard) and Pure Prairie League (Ohio) qualify as southern rock writers either, but I do agree that all but Dylan were influenced by California. And Parsons was arguably the origin of California country rock. Looking forward to hearing them filtered through the Crows. Thanks for piquing my curiosity!