Counting Crows, who amicably left longtime label Geffen Records in 2009 to make music independently, will release their first full-length in four years -- titled "Underwater Sunshine (or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)" -- on April 10. But fans will get a first listen long before, when the Bay-area band streams the covers album in its entirety through Spotify and elsewhere online, including select radio stations.
"We don't want to keep it from people, I think we want to get it to people," frontman Adam Duritz told Billboard.com about the record, comprised of mostly obscure covers from Bob Dylan, Big Star, The Faces and more (full track-listing below).
"You can either try to treat the Internet like it is a big drain sucking your profit down the tubes, or you can realize it's also a conduit," he said. "There's got to be a better way than just bemoaning the loss."
The album represents Counting Crows' first effort in the Facebook/Twitter era, in which more powerhouse labels are passed up in favor of boutique management operations that help connect musicians directly with their fans. Beverly Hills-based independent label Collective Sounds will issue "Underwater Sunshine" digitally and on CD/vinyl.
Recorded over one week in April and another in June, the album features songs by bands Duritz discovered at either Austin's South By Southwest music festival or on websites like Myspace and Daytrotter ( Dawes, The Romany Rye and Kasey Anderson & The Honkies inspired some of the selections). Also included here are new versions of songs resurrected from the pre-Counting Crows bands Sordid Humor and Tender Mercies ("Four White Stallions," for example, has long been a live staple).
Duritz said that making "Underwater Sunshine" freed him from songwriting duties and afforded him the time to develop his first play. (The production, "Black Sun," follows a group of New Yorkers who suddenly inhabit a world gone dark; it premiered at California's Ojai Playwright Conference in August.)
Duritz also revealed that, during recording, he suffered through disruptive "horrific withdrawals" after kicking ineffective psychiatric medications doctors had prescribed to treat his mental disorder. He battled side effects for seven months.
"It was a long year last year," he admitted. "At one point I had the shakes really badly, and you can hear it on the song 'Hospital.' I'm just literally vibrating around the room trying to just stand still and I couldn't do it."
This assortment of covers, produced by Shawn Dealey, captures Counting Crows' allegiance to Americana music, and certain lyrics underscore themes that could have easily flowed from Duritz's pen. "I've been trying hard against strong odds," from Big Star's "Ballad of El Goodo," is particularly fitting, given the band's admiration for the late songwriter Alex Chilton.
"My guts are all over these songs," Duritz said.
Cover songs appear to agree with Counting Crows. Although Duritz claimed that they recorded "Big Yellow Taxi" as an afterthought and never intended to release it as a single, the song wound up on the "Two Weeks Notice" movie soundtrack in 2003 and charted higher than Joni Mitchell's 1970 original -- for a total 76 weeks.
"Underwater Sunshine" track listing:
1. "Untitled (Love Song)" by The Romany Rye
2. "Start Again" by Teenage Fanclub
3. "Hospital" by Coby Brown
4. "Mercy" by Tender Mercies
5. "Meet On The Ledge" by Fairport Convention
6. "Like Teenage Gravity" by Kasey Anderson & The Honkies
7. "Amie" by Pure Prairie League
8. "Coming Around" by Travis
9. "Ooh La La" by The Faces
10. "All My Failures" by Dawes
11. "Return of the Grievous Angel" by Gram Parsons
12. "Four White Stallions" by Tender Mercies
13. "Jumping Jesus" by Sordid Humor
14. "You Ain't Going Nowhere" by Bob Dylan
15. "The Ballad of El Goodo" by Big Star