Sound — 7
Having found their way into the hearts and minds of music fans in the early '90s with ubiquitous hits like Mr. Jones and A Long December, the Counting Crows have chosen to keep quiet on the last 4-5 years. With the exception of some soundtrack appearances, the band hasn't entered a recording studio since their 2002 'Hard Candy' album. Lead singer and let's face it, the soul of the band, Adam Duritz, has battled personal demons that kept the song-writer on the sidelines for most of the time. After finally getting diagnosed with a dissociative disorder by a new psychiatrist, Duritz began to be inspired to write what would become 'Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings.' From the opening rush of 1492, it's clear he's returned with a new sense of zeal! After a quick build of snare drum rolls and treble-kissed guitars, the singer crashes in with the impassioned delivery that made him a household name some fifteen years. It's next to impossible to find any Counting Crows album reviews where anyone in the band, besides Duritz, gets any kind of recognition, let alone praise. It's a shame really because he's surrounded himself with a wonderful crew of musicians throughout their heralded career. The guitar trifecta of Dan Vickrey, David Bryson and David Immergluck offer up plenty of the kinds of melodic licks we've come to love from the band. They go from country informed harmonies on Los Angeles to Tom Petty styled riffing on Insignificant. Sometimes they do it in the span of one song like the standout performances on Cowboys.
Lyrics — 8
Duritz' lyrical influences have always been top-shelf and he's proven that he's studied them well throughout his catalog. Van Morrison, Robbie Robertson and Bob Dylan, who Duritz even name-checks on Mr. Jones, all are names that come up when trying to describe his writing style. He turns in quite a few essential songs on 'SN&SM' proving he hasn't lost his step during those quieter years. To be able to sell a line like, "If you see my picture in a magazine/or if you should fall asleep by the bedroom TV/Honey, I'm just tryin' to make some sense outta me," like he does on the Ryan Adams assisted, Los Angeles, you have to do it with the right balance of conviction and confidence. Duritz has the personality, and probably the ego, to do it well. After all, this is the same guy who bedded two members of the 'Friends' cast at the height of the American sitcom's popularity! But the front-man isn't foolish enough not to self-analyze his shortcomings on a few cuts. He tells a woan, I'm coming along real good/but I still can't do most of the things I should, on the bittersweet, well, more bitter than sweet, You Can't Count On Me. His best strength is still his ability to paint a particular moment of time or place much like a cinematographer would. His captivating descriptions in On A Tuesday In Amsterdam Long Ago are so vivid you almost feel like you're one of the characters in the lyrics.
Overall Impression — 7
There is an elite league of bands that you can always depend on for a more than solid studio album every few years. With 'SN&SM,' the Counting Crows have deservingly earned a place in the club. While a few tracks won't exactly win a spot on their next hits collection, most of the material found here ranks right up with some of their best work. The first half of the album, with it's more traditionally roots-rock feel, was produced by personal favorite, Gil Norton (Pixies, Echo & The Bunnymen) while the quieter half was helmed by Brian Deck (Iron & Wine). Norton's expert handling of the layered instrumentation is awe-inspiring. There are multi-guitars, banjos, Hammond B-3, mandolins and a multitude of other instruments on any given song and the veteran studio wiz always presents them in an exciting and always pleasing way. The band had worked with him on their 'Recovering the Satellites album and having him here again was a brilliant choice. The softer material, all over the second half, slacks in places. The main issue is the song sequence. Breaking up the hushed material with some of the more energetic tunes, would have kept the pacing more enticing. But songs like Anyone But You deserve your attention either way. The outfit's restrained performances on these songs are masterful in taste and delivery. When all is said and done, even with it's few setbacks, this album will not let down the large fan base they've cultivated throughout the years.