Recovering The Satellites
Three years ago, Adam Durvitz of Counting Crows became an overnight superstar while singing the prophetic lines, "Mr. Jones and me, we're gonna be...big stars." The lesson? Be careful what you sing about, because it might come true. Duritz and the Crows spent the past three years getting used to being big stars and living in a world where everybody knew their name (not just some barflies in "Cheers"). And despite coming close to the other dream of "Mr. Jones," ("when everybody loves me/I'm going to be just about as happy as can be,") Duritz doesn't sound any less melancholy than he did three years ago. But that's a good thing.
After a breathtaking debut album like August and Everything After, which reminded FM radio that rock could be both literate and melodic, it's hard to believe that a band could possibly follow it up with a collection of songs that good again. But the Crows have.
Recovering The Satellites debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts last month, and it includes all of the hallmarks that established the Crows as one of the most interesting bands of the decade with August. From the piano oblivion of "Miller's Angels" to the breezy bebop of "Another Horsedreamer's Blues" to the guitar frenzy of "Angels of the Silences," this is truly a triumph of a return.
"And I can't find my way home," Duritz cries in ascendingly strangled emotion at the close of "Children in Bloom," and, in a sense, that's exactly what Satellites is all about: finding an internal home in an unsure world of heartache and bitterness, where people don't see you for who you are inside, but who you appear to be.
Duritz proves once again that he is a colorful, emotive storyteller, perfectly encapsulating lonely yearning in the delicate organ-lilt of "Catapult" ("In every connection I make/ I can't find nobody home/I wanna be the last thing you hear when you're falling asleep").
In "Angels of the Silences," the first hard-driving single from the LP, the band steps a volume level higher than before, careening with abandon through another song of disconnection as Duritz complains, "all my innocence is wasted on the dead and dreaming."
It's Duritz's pen that truly lifts this band above the rest of the rock scene. What other popular group crafts slyly poetic lines like "all the anger and the eloquence are bleeding into fear" (from "Daylight Fading") in each and every song? But it's the music that ultimately sells Duritz's intelligent vision to the fans. Borrowing from a rich heritage of thinking man's rock — Van Morrison and Dylan in particular — The Crows spin distortion-rich tapestries of angst as easily as strumming quiet soliloquies. And unlike most of the current rock crop, The Crows are not afraid to use a slalom of organ keys to underscore a lyrical point. "A Long December" is held together not only by a marching piano but with Bayou-rich strains of accordion. In "I'm Not Sleeping," the band even raises an army of strings to lead the song from nightime quiet to traffic jam cacophony as Duritz declares his unhappy, unsomnulent awareness.
There are 14 songs on Recovering the Satellites, and it's hard to find a fault in any of them. This is that rare CD that you'll probably still be spinning five or 10 years from now.
This is the real thing.
Counting Crows also have an official web site which features song samples, lyrics, videos, chat rooms and more. The site is at http://countingcrows.com.
Five Ring Circus
Longtime alternative rock fans know that Athens, Georgia has been a hotbed for new, slightly off-kilter rock acts since the early '80s. The first wave of Athens "names" came in The B-52s, R.E.M. Love Tractor, Dreams So Real and Golden Palominos. More recently, acts like Magnapop, Five-Eight and Widespread Panic have put out nationally recognized albums.
Which gets us to this review: A little outfit called Clutch Productions put out a double-CD set of Athens band recordings a couple months ago that includes recordings from nearly all of the above acts and more. Five Ring Circus includes 29 tracks from Athens bands, including a live recording from the band that made Athens a big name town in the music industry: R.E.M. "South Central Rain," a song from the band's 2nd LP, Reckoning was recorded on R.E.M.'s last tour. There's also a track from the eclectic and usually instrumental rock trio Love Tractor: "J.E.B. Pharoahs".
Syd Straw, who sang for awhile with Golden Palominos, turns up with a haunting self-help mantra in "All Things Change (when we change ourself)," as do Vic Chestnutt, Vigilantes of Love, Magnapop, Five-Eight and Widespread Panic. Many of the CD's tracks are by relatively unknown bands, and run the qualitative and musical gamut from quirky instrumental surf-meets-sci fi (Man or Astroman?'s "Escape Velocity") to eastern-tinged jazz-rock (Hazel Virtue's "My Spanish Puppetfinger") to metallic rap (Prozak's "Ecoterrorist") to Iggy Pop-influenced punk rock (Trinket's "Love You Again") to laidback country (Kathleen Parrish's "Water") to hillbilly-country (Redneck Greece & The Stump Broke Steers' "Madison Run"). There are some "this sounds like a bar band from anywhere-U.S.A." inclusions, but tracks like Alice Musan's sweet-toned "Falling Away" more than make up for them. The last track on the disc is a 20-minute spoken word history of the Athens scene by one of the town's "fixtures."
If you've ever liked an Athens band, seek this one out. (And you may have to seek for it. If your local store doesn't carry it, email Clutch or write them at P.O. Box 327, Athens, GA 30603.)