I was only 10 years old when the Counting Crows released August and Everything After, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know every lyric. To me, it will always feel like an album that came out when I was in high school, even though a cursory glance at Wikipedia tells me that’s a lie. The Crows have had many releases in the years since this debut album dropped, but August and Everything After continues to be the band’s best, and most enduring, album.
Beginning with the classic “Round Here”, the album goes right for the heartstrings. “Omaha”, the next track, picks up the mood a bit and leads into “Mr. Jones”, the single that propelled the record to a 7 time certified Platinum. This is pure ’90s sentimentalism; just try cuing up that track and see if your life doesn’t flash backward 15 years. Singer Adam Duritz alternates between pitching his voice high and indulging in the smoky depths of his tone, making gray everyone’s favorite color. With an unmistakable acoustic guitar and references to the mysterious Maria, “Mr. Jones” is one of the definitive tracks of the decade, helping to establish the Crows as a force to be reckoned with.
Two tracks later, “Anna Begins” slows things down. Here, Duritz meditates on the theme of changing emotions, which comes up often in his lyrics. “Time and Time Again” comes next, with its quiet guitar and vocal rhythms weaving up and down into a beautiful melancholy tapestry. While the Crows clearly aren’t afraid to strike a dark note, listeners are never let down. My personal favorite, “Rain King”, jazzes up the album next, with a more upbeat take on the futility of love. A nod to Saul Bellow’s novel Henderson the Rain King, here the album’s protagonist is able to assert himself: “Don’t try to bleed me/I’ve been there before and I deserve a little more.”
We wind down again with fan favorites “Sullivan Street”, “Ghost Train”, and “Raining in Baltimore” before closing with the comparatively sassy “A Murder of One”. Every diehard Counting Crows fan definitely has his or her own favorite Crows’ song, but this fan is willing to bet that August and Everything After contains a disproportionate number of favorites. Every song on this album can break your heart, which makes it worth a listen if only for that reason. Maybe I will always think of this as a high school album because that’s how it feels: one song for every flavor of heartbreak. The Crows can feel a bit dark, true, but the band’s enduring appeal is the same as the occasional desire to wear sweaters in the summer. It’s healthy to remember how cold it can get.