Counting Crows Dive Into Underwater Sunshine

Counting Crows have officially announced the release date, cover art and track listing for their latest project, Underwater Sunshine (or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation), a collection of cover songs that mostly skews towards obscure with a few familiar tunes. Recorded in 2011, the album not only marks the return of the band to recording for the first time since Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, but also its first independent venture since splitting from longtime label Geffen Records. As indicated in that departure, the band is utilizing grassroots ideology in promoting the new album via social networking and free album streaming. They’ll also take to the road for the first time in a few years, which has always been their most successful and viable forum, and where many of these songs first took root.

Many of the songs on Underwater Sunshine were previous recorded as B-sides to the Hard Candy album in 2002 and/or have been around in their live repertoire for years so I can certainly speak to the anticipated quality of the project (though everything here is newly recorded with the current iteration of the band). The band has done a great job at staying faithful to the original compositions while also turning the songs into their own. It also helps that they don’t go for so many obvious, fan-appealing choices and instead cover source material they have an honest affinity for. (This ranges from alternative heroes Teenage Fanclub to up-and-coming Romany Rye to classic icons like Bob Dylan and The Faces.)

One of the best qualities of the Hard Candy b-sides was the loose rollicking vibe in the performances of the songs. Whereas Counting Crows’ original compositions often have a precise arrangement to them and often-subtle, careful instrumentation (necessitated by having seven band members), the covers had a looser, free-spirited presentation that frequently leaned more towards country than rock. This is particularly noticeable in those previous recordings of The Faces’ “Ooh La La” and Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.” (The band has been playing “Four White Stallions” for so long, it’s practically been adopted as a Counting Crows song, so I’m excited for it to elevate above bootleg-and-B-side acclaim. )

The band has already sampled its versions of “Untitled (Love Song),” “Meet On The Ledge,” and “Mercy” which all point to a similar sensibility in these recordings. There’s a lot here I haven’t heard so even with so much familiarity, there’s a lot of new to look forward to for long-time fans. I’m also very confident the band will eschew the pitfalls of most covers-album projects as this is an instinctual endeavor, not the result of burnt-out creative motors.

Underwater Sunshine will be in record shops on April 10, 2012.

Untitled (Love Song)

Meet On The Ledge

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