With their angst-filled hybrid of Van Morrison, the Band, and R.E.M., Counting Crows achieved mainstream success almost overnight in 1994. Behind their breakout single, “Mr. Jones,” the Bay Area group’s debut album, August and Everything After, went multi-platinum, earning a slew of Grammy Award nominations and setting them up as one of the more prominent acts of the mid-’90s. Their roots-driven approach to alt-rock struck a chord with fans of classic rock, and they’ve managed to carry their initial success well into 21st century with albums like 1996’s chart-topping Recovering the Satellites and 2002′s Hard Candy, as well as the 2004 hit “Accidentally in Love.” While Counting Crows’ recorded output slowed somewhat in the 2010s, they still managed a certain amount of prestige and respect, thanks in part to 2016′s well-received Somewhere Under Wonderland. After a six-year gap, they delivered the 2021 EP Butter Miracle, Suite One.
Formed in San Francisco in 1991, Counting Crows initially began as an acoustic duo featuring vocalist/songwriter Duritz and guitarist/producer David Bryson. Keyboardist Charlie Gillingham, bassist Matt Malley, and drummer Steve Bowman soon came aboard, with guitarist David Immerglück filling in as a session player before joining full-time in the late ’90s. From the start, the group’s buzz was strong, and on the strength of their early demos, a multi-label bidding war ensued, with Geffen ultimately emerging as victor. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, their 1993 debut, August and Everything After, was a dark and somber record, driven by Duritz’s morose lyrics and expressive vocals. While still relatively unknown, the band filled in for the absent Van Morrison at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, where they were introduced by an enthusiastic Robbie Robertson. Not long after, the album’s only uptempo song, “Mr. Jones,” became a Top Ten hit and effectively launched the group to stardom. Critical praise and Grammy nominations soon followed.
What made Counting Crows unique was how they were able to balance Duritz’s tortured lyrics with the sound of the late ’60s and early ’70s; it made them one of the few alternative bands to appeal to listeners who thought that rock & roll died in 1972. Their follow-up, Recovering the Satellites, followed in 1996 and topped the Billboard 200, eventually going platinum. The band issued their first live album, Across a Wire: Live in New York, in 1998, followed a year later by their third studio LP, This Desert Life. In the midst of recording and collaborating with Ryan Adams on his sophomore album, Gold, Duritz joined his own band in the studio as well. The fruit of those sessions was the group’s 2002 Steve Lillywhite-produced fourth album, Hard Candy.
In 2003, a decade after the band’s breakout success, Geffen issued the best-of Films About Ghosts, and a year later, Counting Crows reminded fans of their ability to write a hit single with “Accidentally in Love,” which appeared on the Shrek 2 soundtrack. Another live collection, New Amsterdam: Live at Heineken Music Hall, recorded from a show on February 6, 2003, was made available to the public. The group’s fifth studio album, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, was a concept record divided into two halves: the more rowdy, upbeat rock of Saturday-night soundtracks and the mellow alt-country side of Sunday-morning hangovers. Released in 2008, it was a testament to Counting Crows’ staying power, hitting number three on the Billboard 200.
In 2009 the band parted ways with their longtime major-label home Geffen Records, but they continued to tour and write new material as feverishly as ever. Duritz struggled with mental problems and prescription drug addiction following the split with Geffen, working on solo material that he released in part online. August and Everything After: Live at Town Hall, the band’s third official live album, was released in 2011. To tide fans over until the release of new material, the group offered up a collection of cover songs entitled Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation) in 2012, and yet another live album, Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow, the following year.
While touring in 2013, Counting Crows started to write material for what would become their seventh album. Recorded at the end of that year with producer Brian Deck, Somewhere Under Wonderland saw release in September 2014. For the remainder of the decade, the band stayed relatively active, with Duritz launching a weekly podcast, Underwater Sunshine, with journalist James Campion and founding a twice-annual independent music showcase in New York City. In early 2021, following a six-year recording hiatus, Counting Crows re-emerged with Butter Miracle, Suite One, the first of two EPs that will ultimately form their next album. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Timothy Monger