Record Shop: Counting Crows – August & Everything After

I don’t make these Record Shop posts as often as I should. But the last two albums that I talked about I introduced as two of my favorite records of all time. Well, I’m about to do that yet again for a third time with August & Everything After by Counting Crows.

Counting Crows is another one of those bands that everyone has heard of, but not enough people took the time to get to know. Over the course of their career, Counting Crows have had a handful of radio hits. Who isn’t familiar with classics like “Mr. Jones” or “A Long December”? But there’s so much more to this group than what is played on the radio. August & Everything After is the debut album by this band and it is arguably their best work. Like most other people, I was introduced to the band by their hit single “Mr. Jones”. But it was the follow-up single “Round Here” that captured my attention and prompted me to buy the record.

The single for “Round Here” was released in the summer of 1994. At this point in time, I had only been playing the guitar for a few months and all of my focus was on grunge and other hard rock. I can’t quite say what it was about “Round Here” that struck a chord with me. Anyone familiar with the song will tell you it sounds nothing like Nirvana or Pearl Jam – both bands that I was obsessed with at the time. If I had to guess, I’d say it was the quality of the song writing and the plain spoken, but introspective lyrics that really put its hooks into me. At any rate, I’m glad that it did. Because after purchasing this album and listening to it for the first time, my eyes were opened to a whole new dynamic of music. Thanks to bands like Blind Melon and The Gin Blossoms, I had already learned that there was way more to songwriting than loud guitars and screaming. But some of the songs on August & Everything After woke up emotions inside me that, as silly as it sounds, I didn’t think I was capable of feeling. To elaborate on what I mean, let’s dig into the record and discuss it track-by-track.

1: Round Here – The album starts with a quiet introduction – an almost inaudible sustain followed by a beautiful chiming electric guitar. From the very beginning, it is clear that this record isn’t here to rush anything. We’re on Counting Crows schedule now. The dopey and almost whiny voice of singer Adam Duritz seems a bit out of place at first. But before he can complete the first line in the song, you realize that somehow it all fits. Adam sings about people we’re not familiar with. Who is Maria and what’s her story? Who she is may not be fully answered on this record. But the glimpses we see of her story can be found in nearly every track. And, even though I couldn’t really relate to the events described throughout this song. I shared in her emotional journey. This is possible due to the emotive voice of Adam Duritz and the passionate work of the rest of the band. Musically speaking, we have a bittersweet melody followed by a slightly upbeat and funky sounding bridge. From start to finish, this song is an emotional ride that sets the tone of the rest of the album as a whole.

2: Omaha – Coming down from the end of the first track, first time listeners are probably expecting the follow up song to be another quiet and mellow track. Instead, we are hit with a foot stomping intro complete with accordion and acoustic guitar. This song has a very earthy and americana feel to it. It sounds like the mid-west to me. When I hear it I think about country roads and hayfields. It’s groovy. I love it.

3: Mr. Jones – This is the song everyone thinks about when you mention Counting Crows. It’s feel-good song about nightlife. You can smell the stale beer in the sound of the jangly guitars. This song is a 90’s pop-rock classic – for good reason. It’s hard to make a rock song this perfect but Counting Crows succeeded. The lyrics, the melody, the production; it’s all there and it is phenomenal.

4: Perfect Blue Buildings –  It seems we are in for a roller coaster ride with this record. The upbeat all-night feel of “Mr. Jones” is followed up by a subdued, almost depressing song. This song just conjures up images of gray skies and nostalgia. Despite that dreary description, there’s so much about this song that tugs at the heart and ends up feeling like home. This is the perfect track to listen to when you’re going through a breakup.

5: Anna Begins – This track ties in to “Perfect Blue Buildings” for me. It’s a very different song, but it manages to maintain that same feel. It’s a very basic sounding track. The drums have always been the main focus here for me. Great stuff.

6: Time and Time Again – This song fits in very well with the last two. That same feeling of emotional turmoil mixed with longing is present in this track also. But it all seems to come to a head during the bridge. It swells up and erupts before slowly ebbing back into place. Then, finally, peace.

7: Rain King – For me, this song signifies the start of the second half of the album. This song is upbeat and has a sense of freedom and positivity to it that hasn’t really been seen on this record yet. Again, everything about the song is masterful. The catchy chords, the vocal melodies, the dreamy and poetic lyrics. Another excellent track.

8: Sullivan Street – Here we come back to another mellow tune. But this time, there’s an oddly optimistic and positive vibe lingering under the surface. It feels like coming home after a long time away and hoping that everything is just the way you left it. Then the chorus kicks in and it’s like finally shouting out that big, emotional secret that you’ve kept bottled up for ages. Another superb, emotional performance from Adam…  and Maria.

9: Ghost Train – Here’s the first track on the album that’s not immediately a favorite. “Ghost Train” captures the feel as the other mellow tracks on the album, but it does it in a slightly different way. It has a different sound that I just can’t quite my finger on. For whatever reason, it seems to be my least favorite on the record so far. Still, I actually love this song. But I can admit it doesn’t hit as hard as some of the other tracks.

10: Raining in Baltimore – If you think you’ve heard some emotional tunes on this album, you haven’t heard anything yet. “Raining in Baltimore” features nothing but Adam and a piano. The emotion and loneliness pours out of him on this track. It’s a very simple and stripped down song in terms of arrangement. But it’s still like the whole band is with him (in some phantom way). It sounds like ink and paper – like airport coffee.

11: A Murder of One – My long standing belief is that the title “A Murder of One” is referencing the term a murder of crows and not the untimely death of someone. Adam is telling us he is a murder of one, a one-man gang. In this song he gives us his observations and desires. It’s uplifting and optimistic. Another great track and the perfect end to the album.

 

As you can probably guess, I’m a fan on this record. This is an album that should be on every record shelf. The songwriting is fantastic. The production quality is crystal clear. It’s nothing short of perfection.

When listening to albums, I always suggest enjoying them on a nice Hi-Fi stereo system or on a portable device with a good pair of headphones. When listening to classic records like this, I usually prefer the original release to many of the “remastered” editions. Often times, remasters are overly loud and actually contain a lower level of quality than the original album. August & Everything After does have a remastered “Deluxe Edition”, but thankfully it doesn’t suffer from from this issue like many re-releases do. To my ears, the remaster is barely louder than the original, but there’s still plenty of spatial headroom (which is very important for a record like this one). The Deluxe Edition also comes with a second disc that includes a number of rarities and remixes. These are nice to have, but none of them match the magic of the main album.

When listening to a record, always listen from start to finish. Unlike pop albums, many good rock records are sequenced in a certain order. Some songs tend to be more enjoyable when following the song preceding them. That’s not particularly true with this album, but that’s still my general practice. Put the record on while you’re driving, or doing house work. Let it play in the background. Listen it to a few times. Some records need to grow on you. Don’t skip around. Even if a particular song doesn’t grab you right away, let it play through. Your opinion may change.

Old Game Hermit

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