The Covering Crows
Counting Crows has once again paved their own unique road, but this time, strapped with 15 tracks, the band delivers their newest album of country, oldies and classic rock. With the title being a play on The Soft Boys’ classic, “Underwater Moonlight,” “Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)” is their first product since leaving Geffen Records (their home for 16 years) for Cooking Vinyl. To follow the success of 2008’s “Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings,” album number seven harbors a collection of covers featuring some familiar and some little-known melodies.
Yet, the fact that “Underwater Sunshine” is a covers release raises some eyebrows over their decision to completely forgo new material and whether their source of creativity has been distinguished. Perhaps, presenting the moody teen romances for nearly two decades, the Berkeley-based band which formed in 1991 wished to take a more relaxed and reverse approach, returning to the roots of rock.
With one of the most discernible unique voices in the rock genre, frontman Adam Duritz tackles each tune in a different manner: some with great soul and connection, and some with a confusingly same feel or take of the original.
Despite the album evoking an overall country flavor due to the Southern genre the original artists were affiliated under, the piano and electric guitar are heavily fused into a majority of the tracks.
The list opens with “Untitled (Love Song)” and it feels like a Counting Crows’ composition due to the little fame it possesses. Yet, the rendition is appealing and may be advantageous to the reputation of The Romamy Rye, the owners of the track.
For Teenage Fanclub’s “Start Again,” Counting Crows adds a double-layered voice effect streamlined with a more pronounced drumbeat, but their cover holds the familiar heavy tune.
Then again, Counting Crows has some luck with “Meet on the Ledge” by the ‘60s folk rock group, Fairport Convention. Duritz belts out a soulful, unembellished version, projecting a feel-good, catchy vibe. In contrast, Sandy Denny and Ian Matthews’ harmonies were more haunting, softer and distinct, igniting a yearning for their voices instead. Nevertheless, the band’s electric guitar chords in the background provide amazing depth despite the suicidal lyrics.
Big Star’s “The Ballad of El Goodo” also sounds tolerable due to the soothing country element. Duritz’s well-known heartbreak vocals and the piano notes soar in the chest, leaving a good, aching impression. Though the original track’s pastoral “ah”s are missed, the a capella toward the end imparts a pleasant twist.
Disappointingly, Durtiz’s stab at Bob Dylan and The Byrds’ “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” is unsuccessful. The Counting Crows also fail to convey the melancholic grace of Gram Parsons’ “Return of the Grevious Angel” by spinning a more upbeat rhythm. Again, a prominent piano role is incorporated into the easygoing, mellow blues song, but the attempts are feeble at best for Parsons, an iconic country singer and songwriter.
Although the album glimmers with hope at times, it mostly disappoints and bores from Counting Crows’ weak efforts. Lacking any new material, the band’s compilation does only an acceptable job and miscarries itself as a successful act from the past.
Rating: 2 out of 5