“There are a million great songs written every day, many on records you discover that you wish your friends could appreciate as much as you do.” That simple truth, courtesy of Adam Duritz, is as good a place as any to begin discussing Counting Crows’ Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation). After five renowned full-lengths, multiple live albums and soundtrack appearances—not to mention Grammy and Oscar nominations—the modern rock mainstays are not only issuing their first independent release, but coloring it with infectious interpretations of some of their favorite tunes.
Recorded in Burbank last April and June, Underwater Sunshine is a collection of 15 gorgeously rendered songs, in which the Bay Area seven-piece honors global icons (Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons), indie-pop heroes (Teenage Fanclub, Travis), compelling up-and-comers (Dawes, the Romany Rye, Kasey Anderson) and even their own seminal pre-Crows projects (Sordid Humor, Tender Mercies). But no matter the artist, the Crows selected each song due to its merit, not its ubiquity. “You may or may not know these songs,” Duritz concedes. “It wasn’t an intentional theme, but it did sort of fall out that a lot of the songs on this record aren’t well-known. The songs on Underwater Sunshine come from old bands and young, they stretch from the early ’60s to earlier this year, and they were recorded for major labels, for indies and, in some cases, for just a few friends to hear. Either way, they’re all great songs, and hopefully they’ll be heard by a few more people now.”
Underwater Sunshine is the sort of treat that established bands too rarely bestow upon their fans. But Counting Crows have always been cut from a different cloth. Having exploded onto the scene with multiplatinum breakout August and Everything After in 1993, the band—Duritz (vocals), Jim Boglos (drums), David Bryson (guitar), Charlie Gillingham (keyboards), David Immergluck (guitar), Millard Powers (bass), and Dan Vickrey (guitar), —has thrived for nearly 20 years as the rare radio and touring powerhouse that blows you away with songs, not superficial excess. Their enduring critical and commercial popularity is easily explained: They write from the heart, challenge themselves, and still give a damn about new music. Dashboard Confessional, Panic at the Disco and The Hold Steady are among the many to count the Crows as influential, and the band are still the kind of guys who roam from club to club at SXSW, CMJ or whatever city they’re touring, simply out of curiosity and love. Music geeks? Sure. We prefer lifers.
Underwater Sunshine is a testament to that open-mindedness. It feels homemade because it is, the band teaming with old friends Shawn Dealey and Brian Deck to capture what Duritz calls “the feeling of all us squeezed into a room playing songs together… almost all recorded live so everybody’s tracks are all over everybody else’s tracks.” From making the electric four-chord bump of Romany Rye’s “Untitled (Love Song)” their own to not-so-delicately expanding upon Kasey Anderson’s fragile “Like Teenage Gravity,” from fulfilling a new obsession with Dawes and a longstanding one with Big Star, Underwater Sunshine exhibits the depth of Counting Crows’ tastes in an entirely new light. Dive in with a smile.