August & Everything After (1993, 51.46) ***/½
Perfect Blue Buildings
Time and Time Again
Raining in Baltimore
A Murder of One
Recovering the Satellites (1996, 59.50) ***½/T½
Angels of the Silences
I'm Not Sleeping
Children in Bloom
Have You Seen Me Lately?
|Another Horsedreamer's Blues
Recovering the Satellites
A Long December
This Desert Life (1999, 60.00) ***/TT½
Mrs. Potter's Lullaby
Amy Hit the Atmosphere
All My Friends
I Wish I Was a Girl
St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream
Hard Candy (2002, 64.01) ***/T
If I Could Give All My Love
(Richard Manuel is Dead)
Butterfly in Reverse
Black and Blue
Why Should You Come When I Call?
Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes to Hollywood)
Holiday in Spain
4 White Stallions
Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings (2008, 59.52) ***/T½
On Almost Any Sunday Morning
|When I Dream of Michelangelo
Anyone But You
You Can't Count on Me
Le Ballet d'or
On a Tuesday in Amsterdam Long Ago
Underwater Sunshine (2012, 61.29) ***½/½
|Untitled (Love Song)
Meet on the Ledge
Like Teenage Gravity
|Ooh La La
All My Failures
Return of the Grievous Angel
Four White Stallions
You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
The Ballad of El Goodo
Somewhere Under Wonderland (2014, 40.57) ***½/T½Palisades Park
God of Ocean Tides
Elvis Went to Hollywood
Cover Up the Sun
John Appleseed's Lament
Shrek 2 (2004, 3.08) ***/T[Counting Crows contribute]
Accidentally in Love
Counting Crows are another one of those Americana-type bands that the States have been throwing up in profusion over the last few years. Think updated Tom Petty, or maybe REM, with jangly guitars, '70s keyboards (much Hammond and Wurlie here) and a rather overwrought vocalist in Adam Duritz.
Their somewhat downbeat debut, August & Everything After doesn't particularly float my boat, if I'm going to be honest. The band were rocketed to stardom by one of its better tracks (and The Hit), Mr. Jones, other better efforts including opener Round Here, Anna Begins and Rain King. Keys man Charlie Gillingham is credited with Chamberlin, but the closest it gets is a possible melodic flute part on Mr. Jones, well in the background. They took a ridiculous three years to follow up with Recovering the Satellites, but the wait seems to've been worthwhile, as the album's a clear improvement on its predecessor. It actually opens with some lovely Mellotron flute on Catapult, though the song goes slightly downhill from there, while the only other 'Tron to be heard here is some more flute, this time mixed with pedal steel, on the balladic Miller's Angels. Two nice 'Tron tracks, then, but not worth the purchase unless you're into this sort of thing anyway.
I actually feel This Desert Life was a step backwards for the band, with an irritating country feel pervading most of the tracks, not to mention bits of REM cropping up here and there. Gillingham plays both Mellotron and Chamberlin this time round, though I have trouble differentiating one from the other. Mrs. Potter's Lullaby has flutes ('Tron?) and strings (Chamby?) dipping in and out of the mix, and that has to be Chamby strings all over All My Friends. More strings and cellos on High Life, though, and an interesting flute part on I Wish I Was A Girl still don't save the album from mediocrity, I'm afraid. Hard Candy picked things up a little (again), with the title track and 'Holiday in Spain' standing out. This time round, Gillingham is credited with 'Melotron [sic] and Chamberlain [sic] Obo [sic]', but all I can hear is has a quick burst of phased, choppy flute chords on American Girls, with the aforementioned 'Chamberlain Obo' on Butterfly In Reverse and 'Tron cellos on Holiday In Spain. Duritz is credited with 'string sampler' which can be heard on a couple of tracks, too, but it's fairly obviously not 'Tron.
After a lengthy gap, 2008's Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings seems to be a concept album of sorts, tracks 1-6 being collectively labelled 'Saturday Nights' and the remainder 'Sunday Mornings'. Like its predecessor, it's a decent enough album of its kind; opener 1492 proves that, despite past form, Counting Crows can rock out, although it's something of a one-off, the bulk of the album displaying the usual Americana-ish mainstream pop/rock for which they're known. Gillingham on 'Tron and Chamby again, with ('Tron?) flutes on Sundays (although the 'flute' on Insignificant is more likely to be a Farfisa or similar), while Anyone But You opens with, er, something (some form of Chamby brass?) doubling flutes, although that would seem to be your lot.
In 2012's Underwater Sunshine, Counting Crows have made their best album since the '90s, in my 'umble opinion, their particular take on Americana finally reaching maturity. Highlights? Opener Untitled (Love Song) has something of the Neil Youngs about it, Hospital, Mercy, Coming Around... No real clunkers, in fact, although pride of place just possibly goes to track five. Without even really looking at the tracklisting properly, it's recognisable from its opening notes: Fairport Convention's deathless classic (pun intended) Meet On The Ledge (a Richard Thompson composition, fact fans). Do they do it well? They do. Gillingham's Mellotronic input is minimal, however, with naught but background strings on Coming Around that could emanate from almost anything. 2014's Somewhere Under Wonderland keeps up the quality of its predecessor, top tracks including lengthy opener Palisades Park, Earthquake Driver, the acoustic God Of Ocean Tides and Elvis Went To Hollywood, while the ripping slide work on John Appleseed's Lament is worthy of mention. Two Gillingham Mellotron tracks this time, with nice polyphonic flute parts on God Of Ocean Tides and Scarecrow, making a nice comeback from Underwater Sunshine.
Just to spoil the nice run of quite arty sleeves above, the band contributed Accidentally In Love to the Shrek 2 soundtrack in 2004. Yeah, typical Counting Crows, quite upbeat, if you like them you'll probably like it. Bit of tape-replay strings, nothing to write home about.
So; if you 'do' the mainstream end of Americana, or want to hear a band attempt to emulate The Band, so to speak, you'll probably like Counting Crows. If you want some decent Mellotron/Chamberlin work, although there's a couple of worthwhile tracks here, I'd go elsewhere if I were you.
Incidentally, Gillingham quotes on the Mellotron:
|"I do use a lot of Mellotron. I like Mellotron because of the atmosphere. The thing I like most about Mellotron is that it's very difficult to play, right? It has terrible action. I mean, it has Mellotron action, which is kind of like pushing play on a kick pad, like a cassette. Do you remember those old cassette players that had the five buttons on one side? That's what a Mellotron feels like. So you can't play naturally".
"No two Mellotrons sound alike, and no two B3s sound alike. Each one has its own character, especially the B3s. It's just far too broad an instrument to be really captured. If you leave it up to the programmers at the software factory, they're going to pick six things that everybody's heard before. But a Hammond is a much more subtle instrument than that. You can do a lot. You can play a lot of bolts. Those six presets aren't going to be what a B3 is".
See: Shrek 2