A photo caption Associated Press photograph in yesterday's Style section incorrectly identified guitarist David Immergluck of the band Counting Crows. (Published 10/28/1999)
"This Desert Life," the third studio album by Counting Crows, opens with the boisterous single "Hanginaround." Part rant and part chant, the song is fueled by a man's desperate desire to escape his dreary life and surroundings. Against a backdrop of hand claps and percussive piano chords, Adam Duritz sings, "I've been bumming around this old town for way, way, way too long." For a brief moment, the poor soul sounds like he's actually going to move on.
Which is more than you can say for most of the characters Duritz sings about on "This Desert Life" (Geffen). Never reluctant to confess his own fears and frailties, Duritz has littered the album with people paralyzed by gnawing insecurities and painful memories, and it's clear from the outset that he's drawing on personal experiences to shape the record's dark emotional contours.
"Mrs. Potter's Lullaby," a long narrative ballad that flows over a shuffle beat in a manner that recalls Bob Dylan's epic "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts," is typical of the album's weaknesses and strengths. Moments of self-pity ("I woke up in midafternoon because that's when it always hurts the most") are juxtaposed with rock band epiphanies ("We shout out these songs against the clang of electric guitars/ You can see a million miles tonight but you can't get very far").
While some of the album's lyrics are cringe-inducing, particularly the ponderous R.E.M.-like ballad "Colorblind" ("I'm covered in skin/ No one gets to come in"), the best songs, including the surreal "St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream" and "Amy Hit the Atmosphere," find Duritz at the top of his game, exploring psychological themes in imaginative and clever ways.
It doesn't hurt, of course, that his voice is in strong, soulful shape, or that the songs are often wrapped in a colorful weave of guitars, sitar, mandolin, keyboards, percussion and strings.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8152.)
Duritz recently signed Joe 90, a Los Angeles-based band formerly known as God's Child, to his own record label, E Pluribus Unum. "Dream This," the quartet's label debut, is a modestly appealing pop-rock release, boasting a few intriguing lyrics and more than its share of sturdy melodic hooks.
Singer-songwriter Chris Seefried sounds as if he's spent a lot of time listening to Squeeze and Crowded House. Joe 90 isn't in the same league as those bands, but it has a similarly engaging knack of wedding thoughtful lyrics to catchy tunes, as evidenced by the buoyant rocker "Blurred," the jangly ballad "November Bombs" and the Duritz cameo "Drive." A glaring exception is an empty-headed acoustic guitar musing called "Look," which never rises above the level of the following lyric: "Oh, I love watching you/ Do you love watching me too?"
The Counting Crows and Joe 90 appear at the 9:30 club on Thursday.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8153.)
CAPTION: Birdland: Counting Crows Adam Duritz, left, and David Bryson at Woodstock.