It isn’t often something so singularly spectacular happens in the world of recorded music. Something that people will still talk about twenty years down the line. Something that holds its shape as an absolute art form through the years, rising above trends, fashion and whatever else televised singing contests throw at it. I am talking here, about an event that occurred in late 1993, a debut album from a band little was known about outside the Bay Area of San Francisco. It was this year, and this small, creatively charged part of the world where Counting Crows were putting the finishing touches to their first foray into the world of music. If you hadn’t guessed it by now, I am of course, talking about the seminal album: August and Everything After.
Counting Crows had spent their formative years mostly focusing on their live shows, and what a foundation that brings when you then move yourselves into the studio arena. The days spent honing the skills to encapsulate your audience out in bars and clubs, to draw them in if only just for a while, were not lost in this transition when it came to recording. There are so many spectacular numbers on this record that to run through each song track-by-track would quickly escalate into an essay full of superlatives and anyway, this album isn’t about individual tracks. The core ingredient to August and Everything After’s mass appeal, is balance.
This is a work of art that needs to be viewed as a whole. It is complete and all encompassing. Everyone knows the words to Mr. Jones and everyone’s heard that famous accordion intro to Omaha, and it’s true it was the former that launched this album into stardom, but it’s the downbeat ballads that are the secret jewel of this record, that provide us with that key ingredient, balance. Songs such as Round Here, Anna Begins and Raining in Baltimore draw you in and tie you down, before letting you drift loose into a world of wonder. Whether led by a piano or a simple drum shuffle, these songs are able to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. We can then be taken back to all out rock with album closer A Murder of One; fun, upbeat and anthemic. It is this ability the band possesses, to pen starkly contrasting tunes taking many different shapes, but always managing to bring everything back to a sense of completeness before we are through.
Credit must go largely to vocalist Adam Duritz, who’s ability to write such imaginative lyrics and create such vivid pictures in your head is one surely revered by songwriters everywhere. However, it really isn’t a one-man band. The use of vocal harmonies throughout the rest of the band is a staple part of their sound and is seen in wonderful use in the poppy, optimistic number Rain King, among plenty of others. And not to mention the ever so slightly overdriven guitar riffs that feature prominently, serving as a platform on which these songs can stand. It really is a thought-provoking, wondrous, adventurous collection of music we have been served here, so it’s no coincidence it holds such high regard among the music world in 2014. English folk-rocker Frank Turner even goes as far to say “It’s flawless, as far as I’m concerned. One of the most important albums I’ve ever heard”.
I could go on for a few pages about this record but I don’t want to bore, so I’ll leave you in the hope you might pop over to your collection when you finish reading and and give this one a spin on the record deck. Take a seat and close your eyes. Give it the time to play through, to pull you in and see where it takes you. Comfy? Good, you’ll be lost in Duritz’s world momentarily. Enjoy.