August reveals a restless, confident band of songwriters who are steeped in the rock tradition yet anxious to extend it. It's easy to hear the group's influences – the Americana-drenched imagery and multi-instrumental explorations of the Band ("Omaha"); the entrancing soulfulness of Van Morrison ("Mr. Jones"); the lonesome Joshua Tree-era U2 ("Ghost Train"); the rootsy rock of John Mellencamp ("Rain King") – but it's much harder to specify the place from which music like this comes. And while the songs are almost always about individuals left wanting and lost, it is equally difficult to pigeonhole the Counting Crows' sound.
On the opener, "Round Here," a Hammond B-3 whispers as an electric guitar plays an ambiguous melody. On top, Adam Duritz sings what amounts to a credo for the entire record: "Step out the front door like a ghost/Into the fog where no one notices/The contrast of white on white/And in between the moon and you/The angels get a better view/Of the crumbling difference between wrong and right." In relating the ensuing tale of disintegration, guilt and regret, he sounds like a bewildered storyteller, vulnerable to forces he cannot understand.
Duritz is a powerfully emotive singer, but he doesn't carry this show alone. The band knows when to take it to the limit and when to fall back and support him with gorgeous three-part harmonies and ringing, instrumental flourishes. Guitarist David Bryson is particularly good. His playing is understated and spare, offering a melodic buffer between the singer and the song. T-Bone Burnett's warm, spacious production also helps, allowing room for the songs to expand without seeming overwrought.
In the 11 songs on August and Everything After, Counting Crows communicate complex (and often desperate) emotions honestly and intelligently without resorting to clichés or cheap sentimentality. That a young band achieves so much on its first album is an event well worth celebrating.
(Posted: Oct 28, 1993)
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