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Counting Crows - Butter Miracle, Suite One (Album Review)

Friday, 28 May 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Mark Seliger

Being a Counting Crows fan requires the kind of patience usually possessed by a Jedi Master. With only six original studio albums since 1993, and a meagre three this side of the millennium, you’ll never see the band described as prolific. As such, this four song EP sounds like a frustratingly sparse offering after a seven year wait, but its stellar contents speak volumes about why the group only make music when the time is right. 

The whole Counting Crows machine is very much beholden to the trusty, albeit stubbornly unhurried, muse of their enigmatic singer and songwriter Adam Duritz. That said, considering ‘Butter Miracle, Suite One’ clocks in just shy of 20 minutes, even the most resolute of followers might be tempted to give him a kick up the backside.  

Yet the frontman’s creative integrity and artistic wilfulness should be applauded because, as this effort once again proves, appeasing outside demands with sub-standard offerings thankfully isn’t in his wheelhouse.

Holed up in the English countryside, uninspired by the thought of making a rote 10 track record, the self-professed Rain King became stimulated by solitude and the prospect of sculpting a suite where each track ran into the next.  

Packed with fresh ideas, alongside enough classic Counting Crows moments to satisfy disciples, this deceptively wealthy collection is an all singing, all dancing advert for quality over quantity that finds Duritz’s evocative poetry at the top of its idiosyncratic game. An astonishing composition, The Tall Grass could be the dawn of a nebulous new day.  Bringing to mind past gems such as Round Here and Anna Begins, it’s a lucid dream in musical form that travels free-form towards a profound awakening.  

Focusing on the scars of childhood trauma, existential confusion and wide-eyed possibility through the hazy lens of a life-changing relationship, the song seemingly makes no lyrical sense, but also makes perfect sense if one’s familiar with Duritz’s musical and emotional lexicon. He expresses what he’s lived and we feel it intensely, which is why tracks like this can't be bashed out every two years on command.

If that opener recalls the style of ‘August and Everything After’, the trio that follow harken back to the melodic bounce and bubble of 2002’s ‘Hard Candy’. A rolling pop-Americana gem, Elevator Boots possesses a sprightly cadence and vintage refrain. Angel of 14th Street, meanwhile, is a dynamic, see-sawing rocker that unleashes a fizzing guitar freakout and piercing trumpet break. Never in danger of burning out thanks to their schedule, it showcases how great this ensemble are when let off the leash.  

Saving the best for last, Bobby and the Rat-Kings might be the most celebratory track Duritz has penned and truly captures how humdrum adolescent existence can be enriched by the magic of live music. Whipping up an infectious storm of youthful abandon, it’s very early Springsteen and imagines Rosalita and her pals gigging their hearts out on a nicer side of town. 

‘Butter Miracle’ is a stellar endorsement that unhurried artistic expression should always trump contractual obligation, financial motivation or disingenuous fan servicing. Yes, patience with Duritz and this band is a necessity, but one that usually ends with a reward that, thanks to the authenticity fuelling conception and execution, is built to endure.


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