Album Review

Counting Crows – Butter Miracle, Suite One: EP Review

Counting Crows release the first in a series of musical suites, that provide an immersive and musically evocative soundtrack for our times.

Release date: 21st May 2021

Label: BMG

Format: DL/Vinyl

Counting Crows, from Berkeley, California, were formed in 1991. Evolving into a seven-piece band, comprised of extremely talented musicians, and songwriter and lead vocalist Adam Duritz. They have produced a number of memorable albums, characterised by Adam Duritz’s expressive and timeless songs, and enveloping musical soundscapes, supported by the band’s superb musicianship. Live, in concert, their performances can be in turn, gentle and affecting, and also full-on roof-raising, with some of their key songs often radically reinterpreted.

If you are new to the band, listen to the beautiful and intensely moving song, Washington Square, from the Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings album. Follow that with the incendiary performance of Rain King from the August and Everything After: Live At Town Hall album. This will give you a sense of their tremendous musical range.

On the new EP, Butter Miracle, Suite One, we have a four-track, nineteen-minute suite, intended to be listened to as one piece of music. It was written by Adam last year, while in the UK countryside, during lockdown. This ambitious musical project will see the second suite of music released later this year.

The opening track, The Tall Grass, musically sets the scene, with a rhythmic electronic pulse, and the music evoking a strong pastoral sense of the countryside, underpinned by echoing and swirling keyboards, and folk and country influenced acoustic guitars. It’s a piece of music that builds slowly, with piano, drums, and atmospheric electric guitar, joining the mix. As Adam’s accompanying vocals journey from the poetic spoken word to impassioned and soaring singing, that glides over the instruments. Lyrically it seems to evoke a poignant striving for the meaning of experience, as the journey of life evolves. Where, the opening up of possibility, is laced with the ghosts of past experience.

Elevator Boots is an engaging reflection on, and an emotional travelogue for, the experience of touring as a band. Contrasting, the feeling of being constantly on the move from place to place, with the unique thrill of the live connection with an audience, once on stage. It also feels very relevant, to the gap left for music fans, by the absence of a live gig experience during the pandemic. This is expressed so well, when Adam sings the line, “Everything that feels alive is in one more show.” Musically the synthesis of gentle acoustic guitars and piano, and light jazz-like drumming, punctuated by some stinging electric guitar, fits perfectly with the fluctuating mood of the song.

Angel Of 14th Street, has an uplifting, danceable, and uptempo feel, brilliantly driven by the bass guitar. Together, with great harmonies, a fabulous string arrangement, and two magnificent instrumental solos. The first a lyrical and intensely melodic trumpet solo, and then later in the song, an abrasive storm of solo electric guitar. It conveys a keen sense of hope, that the light will come into our lives again, with an engaging chorus, that includes the words “we need a light on.” A piece of music to perfectly accompany the times ahead, as hopefully live music and the arts return.

Bobby And The Rat-Kings, the final part of this incredible musical suite, represents Counting Crows, at their storytelling, and joyous, musically abandoned best. The high energy ensemble playing, and Adam’s punk and blues-tinged vocal, resonates of the E Street Band, and Graham Parker & The Rumour, in full flight. The character of Bobby from Elevator Boots reappears, in this story of the communing, life-changing and therapeutic power of live music.

This musical suite is a towering achievement, and evidence of a band still at the peak of its creative powers. A must listen for 2021.

Here’s the official lyric video for Elevator Boots:

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