Monday, April 17, 2006

Five Songs, Chapter Six

The younger sister pointed out that last week's post about Counting Crows came across pretty negative, given what she knows about me and the band. She was just keeping me in line, having lived through the Bon Jovi days and everything. So, here's a special installment of five songs, focusing on the Crows. I can't think of a single fashionable thing about them, now or when they first burst on the scene, but I think their music will hold up reasonably well over time. They're not always shy about fetishizing their influences -- Van Morrison, R.E.M., The Band -- and I think critics hate them for that. (Why they love Wilco for the same exact thing, that's for God to answer.) There's one moment late in the song "Tupelo Honey," in particular, when Morrison plays with the line about dropping all the tea in China into the sea, and it really sounds like he's retroactively aping Duritz. Weird.

"Sullivan Street"

Maria McKee adds backing vocals for warmth on this one. She and the Jayhawks contributed to a few songs on the band's debut, and this is one of my favorites from that record (a record I like quite a bit).

"The Ghost in You"

This is a cover of a Psychedelic Furs song that the band contributed to the Clueless soundtrack, and I include it because it's attached to an anecdote that I always remember as saying a lot about the band and hipsters both. There was a genuinely good alternative radio station in Dallas, before it was bought by a conglomerate and started incessantly playing Creed, Limp Bizkit, and the like. Every Sunday night, there was a show called The Adventure Club that played rarities, brand new stuff, etc. One week, the DJ introduced this song and made a big show of pointing out that it was "the only decent thing this band has done," or something along those lines. But not only is this song similar to something Duritz might write, the vocal performance is mewling and tortured even by his standards. Because of its association with the Furs, the DJ could safely endorse it, but it probably represents more of what he hates about Counting Crows than almost any other song. Putz.

"A Long December"

The thing I've always liked about this song -- though I'm sympathetic to arguments that it's schmaltzy, but that's true of a lot of the band's music, and of me generally -- is that it kind of sounds like the end of a year. (Speaking of putzes.) This second album, my criticisms of which are what spurred my sister to upbraid me, actually has several really good songs on it. There are two or three, though, that are tough to take, and those are the ones that deal with the difficulty of being a rock star. After one album.

"Friend of the Devil"

Cover of a Grateful Dead song (also beautifully done by Lyle Lovett, which I can't find anywhere). I always think it's a mark of a band's competence when they can cover something this well.

"If I Could Give All My Love"

A song off the most recent record that proves the band is keeping Duritz honest -- crafting full, sturdy foundations that keep him from getting too maudlin too often, and that cover for him when he does.



Blogger Justin Kreutzmann said...

That Crowes cover of the GD tune is on their greatest hits CD. My dad (who played in the Dead) liked the Counting Crowes version better!

12:30 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Interesting that 2 of your 5 picks were covers. Out of all of the versions of "Friend of the Devil", I think Lyle Lovett's is the best. Gotta give props to the Dead, of course, since it is their song. But their version never hit me musically. I love how Lyle slowed it way down and gave it a lot of space. The lyrics work better for me with Lyle's arrangement vs. the GD's. The Crowes? Whatever. By the way, Lyle's version is on DEADICATED, one of those tribute albums where a bunch of other artists cover a band's tunes. They are usually disappointments for some reason, but DEADICATED is one of the better ones out there. Pick it up if you can find it. Also features Elvis Costello, Los Lobos, Bruce Hornsby, Suzanne Vega, Dwight Yoakam and others. Great disc.

1:02 AM  
Anonymous pf said...

I like these guys just fine, but I have to give you some static for your observation about Tupelo Honey. Please. I mean, puh-lease! I hope you're not as twisted as the phrase "retroactively aping" would seem to indicate. It reminded me of the way my heart sunk one dark, dark night when some Lenny Kravitz song came up on the jukebox, and the friend I was out with, who should've known better, asked all too predictably, "Is this Hendrix?"

5:52 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

Justin, welcome. Very cool to have your comment on the blog.

Dezmond, these are only "my picks" in the sense that they gave me something to write about. They're not my five favorite songs by them.

PF, I'm plenty twisted, as you well know, but unfortunately, not for the reason you so viciously hoped for here. The "retroactively aping" line simply speaks to the degree to which Duritz often attempts to channel Morrison, not his overall success in doing so. That's all.

11:36 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Thanks for the clarification, JW. Putting Duritz in the same conversation with Van the Man is like discussing "Porky's" and "The Godfather", respectively.

4:37 PM  

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