Monday, January 16, 2012

Top 50 Albums, #37 - "August and Everything After"

I was a little late to the party with “August and Everything After,” but once I got there, I made the best of it. The album was released in September 1993, and almost immediately some of its best known songs began to hit the radio. I liked what I heard – from first listen, it was evident that “Mr. Jones” was one of those classic singles that stays with you for a generation. “Omaha” was also a strong song. So why didn’t I buy the album? At this point, who knows? I probably bought fewer albums in the early 1990s than at any other time in my life, mostly because we’d just had our first child, we’d bought a house, and we didn’t have a lot in the way of discretionary funds. That’s as good an excuse as any, I suppose.

But I remember, almost to the day, the moment when I realized that I had to have the album – it was a Saturday on the first weekend August 1994. We were at the home of a friend of my brother’s for a wedding shower; he was getting married later that month. At the time my wife was pregnant with our second child, and at that point the odds were no better than even that we’d be able to make the (out of town) wedding, depending on…you know, the baby thing. The album was playing on the stereo, and I quickly realized that there was much, much more to the record than just “Mr. Jones” and “Omaha.” By the time of the big day (the wedding and the birth, both of which occurred on the same day, and yes we made it to the wedding, but that is a story for another day), I was completely hooked.

“August and Everything After” is an album that rewards repeated listening. Like an onion, you peel the layers away in order to get to the real depth of the matter. The aforementioned songs are probably the most immediately accessible, along with “Rain King” and “A Murder of One.” Peel those layers away, and you find songs like “Perfect Blue Buildings,” “Ghost Train,” and “Sullivan Street.” Beneath that level lies the true heart of the album, a trio of songs that perhaps are not immediately accessible, but well worth the effort to know better: “Round Here,” “Anna Begins,” and “Raining in Baltimore.” On the first go around, each of those songs may strike the listener as a bit inscrutable. But like few others, they are proof that sometimes, you have to work your way inside of song to truly appreciate it.

There are some who dislike the vocal style of Adam Duritz, and there have been songs on subsequent albums where he over-emotes to the point of being almost annoying. But the approach works perfectly on the debut record, creating a nice dichotomy with the straightforward instrumental backing. And like him or not, he is the face of the band, I would challenge most fans to name even a second member of the group. And besides, Duritz is a Cal Bear, and a loyal fan – even playing the role of sideline reporter on a couple of occasions during Cal football games. The production is also solid, a no-frills effort turned in by T-Bone Burnett – crisp, clear and sounding much different from some of T-Bone’s more recent productions, which have tended at times to throw in everything but the kitchen sink.

Overall, Counting Crows has had a very solid career, and with their debut album they went way beyond that – it was then, and remains now, a great album.

August and Everything After (1993) • Produced by T-Bone Burnett

Round Here/Omaha/Mr. Jones/Perfect Blue Buildings/Anna Begins/Time and Time Again/Rain King/Sullivan Street/Ghost Train/Raining in Baltimore/A Murder of One

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