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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Counting Crows' Different Kind of Covers Album

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Covers records are often a band's attempt to showcase their influences and explain how their own sound came about. Def Leppard's 2006 album Yeah!, for instance, featured covers of early-1970s glam and hard rock tunes, making the argument that the band was rooted in rock and not heavy metal. The Counting Crows' new covers collection, however, is not that kind of album. The songs that the band covers on Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation) don't come from any certain genre or era. It has no aspirations of helping fans understand the influences that shaped the Bay Area group.

Yet Underwater Sunshine offers something that might make it more valid than most such releases, as the band accomplishes something that many acts don't achieve in making covers albums: They make the songs sound like their own.

Without knowing this was an album of songs by other artists, one could easily assume some of the tracks were Counting Crows originals. That's because the band stayed away, for the most part, from doing songs that are well known. Only "Ooh La La" (by Faces), "Amie" (by Pure Prairie League) and "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" (by Bob Dylan and The Band), and arguably Gram Parsons' "Return of the Grievous Angel," qualify as widely known tunes.

Otherwise, the Counting Crows bring their rootsy pop sound to songs as wide-ranging as Fairport Convention's "Meet on the Ledge," Teenage Fanclub's "Start Again," the fairly obscure Dawes song "All My Failures" and Travis' "Coming Around."

The thread that ties together the songs, in the view of guitarist Dan Vickrey, is that "every one of these songs is a good songwriting song." Each "tells a story, has a narrative and therefore has an emotion that that listener can put themselves into," he says.

The idea of doing a covers album began to surface soon after singer Adam Duritz and the band reconvened after a two-year hiatus that followed the tour in support of 2008's Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings. There was no grand plan to return to action with this kind of album. "This was kind of where Adam's head was at, and Adam feels these songs as a singer," Vickrey says.

"I think the real key was making it our own," he says of the album. "The songs on their own sound good, but I think—my personal opinion is—we bettered all of them. But why do them if you're not going to better all of them?"

The band has had its share of experience with cover tunes over the years, even scoring a hit when they covered Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" in 2002. While their albums have generally contained all original material, cover tunes have made frequent appearances at the band's concerts over the years.

At the band's current shows the group is playing about five songs from the new album, Vickrey says, which of course leaves plenty of time to perform original material from the band's catalog.

The group, Vickrey says, feels rejuvenated after its time off.

"It has been refreshing to get back and play the shows," Vickrey says. "It's always fun to get back to playing. You realize how much you missed that. So I think that energy will be brought with this tour and the ones beyond. I think it's all good. It can only help recharge the battery and bring a certain freshness to it."

Counting Crows headline the BMO Harris Pavilion with openers We Are Augustines, Field Report and Kasey Anderson and the Honkies on Wednesday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m.