Artist: Counting Crows
Title: August and Everything After
Genre: adult contemporary roots rock
In retrospect, one of the real benefits of the 90s "alternative" label was that it could be applied to basically anything, which made for a lot of variety on rock radio. I've talked before about how "grunge" was a pastiche of glam-rock, hard rock, heavy metal, and punk; "alternative" not only included all of that, but it also fit in funk-rock acts like Red Hot Chili Peppers, post-punk arty groups like Talking Heads, and rootsy college/jam acts like Dave Matthews Band. So in 1993, on the strength of a bopping lead single Mr. Jones, Counting Crows--with its prominent mandolin, organ, and accordion--got to be on rock radio.
I picked up the album for Mr. Jones and the hypnotic follow-up Round Here and was immediately taken with it. It was slow, but it felt deep and meaningful. Adam Duritz's sad, poetic warbles spoke to me, despite the fact that at fourteen-years-old I absolutely didn't understand what he was singing about. This was an album that I largely set aside in college and came back to a few years later and just went track-by-track going "Oh, that's what it's about." Some things you just don't get until you've been through a messed up relationship or two. Duritz is a low-key great lyricist. His stuff is fairly abstract, but I love the way ideas evolve over the course of a song. In Omaha, for instance, the fourth line is "Turn a new leaf over" in the first verse, then "Turn a new life over" in the second, and finally "Turn a new love over" in the third.
The singles are all great, the two I've already mentioned (Mr. Jones and Round Here) as well as Rain King and A Murder Of One. I'm also a big fan of Anna Begins and Omaha--which are slow-but-optimistic songs--and Raining in Baltimore, which is maybe the saddest, most beautiful thing I've ever heard. One particularly morose evening I sang that at karaoke and basically brought the night to a screeching halt. Good times!
Further Listening: None of their other albums really work for me, but they have some great tunes: Einstein on the Beach (For an Eggman), Long December, and Hanginaround are all fantastic. They have a greatest hits album called Films About Ghosts that's worth checking out for some of their harder-to-find single content.