Adam Duritz says his band, Counting Crows, has come back from its recent hiatus better than ever as a live band.
“We’ve been playing the best shows of our lives. The last tour around the world, it was just unreal,” the singer said in a phone interview. “We were just killing it.”
That in itself might be reason enough to catch Counting Crows as the band does a few winter shows. But if you want proof before buying a ticket, the group has now released a live album, “Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow,” which essentially is a best-of compilation of performances from the group’s 2012 tour.
Originally, the group didn’t plan to do a commercial release of the live album and offered it as a download for fans who saw the group on its co-headlining tour last summer with The Wallflowers. But Counting Crows later changed plans and officially released the CD.
To put together the album, Duritz had each member of the Counting Crows suggest a couple of shows from 2012 that they remembered as being especially good.
“I felt we should document (the 2012 concerts) because it was really a cool year of touring,” Duritz said.
Counting Crows returned to action last year after a two-year hiatus; they play a sold-out show at Belly Up tonight. Instead of trying to make a new album of original material, Duritz, the band’s chief songwriter, and the rest of the group — Jim Boglos (drums), David Bryson (guitar), Charlie Gillingham (keyboards), David Immergluck (guitar), Millard Powers (bass) and Dan Vickrey (guitar) — decided to make a record of covers, “Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on My Summer Vacation).”
At the time, Duritz was writing music for a play, “Black Sun,” which was presented in 2011 at the Ojai Playwrights Conference with Evan Rachel Wood and Rob Morrow featured in the cast. He didn’t feel he could write for Counting Crows while his focus was on “Black Sun.”
“I just didn’t want to write for two things at once,” Duritz said. “I didn’t want to divide my focus that way. The covers album was meant for me to be able to work with the band while still writing for the play. That was the main reason to do that.”
While “Underwater Sunshine” didn’t involve original songs, it generated musical growth that Duritz didn’t anticipate while going into the project.
“As much as I hate to say this, it is really limiting to spend your entire career only collaborating with one writer — even if that writer is me,” Duritz said. “You get a chance to do a record like ‘Underwater Sunshine,’ and all of a sudden you realize what it’s like to collaborate with like 15 other guys that aren’t there. It’s like getting to collaborate with all of these other musicians. You get a different take on rhyme, a different take on rhythm, a different take on how to look at the world, how to view your life through a song, a different way of putting together chord patterns and a different way of doing feels because all of these guys have their own ways of expressing their lives through their songs, and you get to dip your toes in all of those different places. That really opens you up as a musician.”
“Underwater Sunshine” draws from an eclectic range of sources, featuring a few tunes that will be familiar to most music fans, including “Amie” (by Pure Prairie League), “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (by Bob Dylan and the Band) and a good number of songs that may be new to fans. The latter group of songs includes Fairport Convention’s “Meet on the Ledge,” Teenage Fanclub’s “Start Again” and the British group Travis’ “Coming Around.”
The main goal was to make the covers sound like Counting Crows songs.
And indeed, if you didn’t know that the songs on “Underwater Sunshine” are covers, you might think they were Counting Crows originals, fitting in with the rootsy rock-pop sound of such familiar tunes as “Mr. Jones” (from the group’s hugely popular 1993 debut album, “August and Everything After”), “Angels of the Silences” (from 1996’s “Recovering The Satellites”), “Hanginaround” (from 1999’s “This Desert Life”) or the cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” (from 2002’s “Hard Candy”). The band’s other studio album is 2008’s “Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings.”
That makes “Underwater Sunshine” a success in and of itself. But the benefits of doing cover songs have extended well beyond the album itself. Figuring out how to interpret the outside songs played a major role in Counting Crows’ aforementioned improvement as a live band.
“It’s changed the way we play live,” Duritz said. “It certainly had a huge effect on the band as players and me as a singer.
“We just seem to have opened up. I don’t know how else to explain it other than that. But it’s like playing those songs on the record and playing them in concert opened up the way everybody played everything else, too.”