Album Review: Counting Crows – Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)




    Adam Duritz has never been shy about the music he loves. Between the showstopping rendition of Van Morrison’s “Caravan” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, annual covers-heavy Shim Sham Club shows around the century’s turn, and last year’s All My Bloody Valentines seven-covers-in-seven-days solo project, Counting Crows fans have regularly been privy to what the dreadlocked frontman spins at home. Underwater Sunshine (a play on The Soft Boys’ classic Underwater Moonlight, another Duritz favorite) mixes live staples, pop classics, and more recent material, offering the latest enjoyable, if inconsistent, glimpse into Duritz’s record collection.

    Underwater Sunshine doesn’t reward listeners with definitive versions or perfect takes. Rather, it’s sprinkled with “keeper” moments and variations (subtle and not so) on originals that feel just right: The Band-esque chorus harmonies on “Meet on the Ledge” (Fairport Convention); Charlie Gillingham’s intermingled keys and swapping out electric guitar for David Immergluck’s mandolin on the bridge of “Start Again” (Teenage Fanclub); and an amped, country-rock take on “Return of the Grievous Angel” (Gram Parsons).

    Moody standout “Like Teenage Gravity” (Kasey Anderson) is the record’s most realized effort. Guitars meander while Duritz’s pining voice perfectly delivers lines he could have penned, like “If it feels like fallin’, boy, you probably already fell.” It’s Duritz at his best—a grown man who still soars and crashes like a teenager with each girl who comes and goes—wandering and confused until he finally finds the words, “So, I guess I’m in love.” The way the phrase “round here” (used throughout the song) rolls off his tongue still touches a nerve after all these years.

    The longest-tenured Crows revisit their past bands and early days in the San Francisco scene on tracks “Mercy”, “Four White Stallions” (both by Tender Mercies), and “Jumping Jesus” (Sordid Humor), but none of these nostalgic trips trump the many live versions already available. Classics like “Ooh La La” (Faces) and “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” (Bob Dylan) are much more memorable. The band sounds like a bunch of kids trying to play songs they heard on the radio, with Duritz hamming it up and playfully deferring to bandmates (“Charlie!”, “A-everybody sing,” or “Go on, Immy. Bang, bang, bang!”). And that’s the appeal of so many of Duritz’s favorite songs. You put them on, “and you soon will find, you’re just a boy again.”

    Essential Tracks: “Like Teenage Gravity”, “Meet on the Ledge”, and “Ooh La La”