Butter Miracle, Suite One is the first new Counting Crows release in seven years, but its world feels instantly familiar. The opening track, “The Tall Grass”, begins with an invitation to “come outside”, and one of the final lyrics is a pleading “can you see me?” Those two phrases carry weight for Counting Crows fans. The first was used extensively in “Palisades Park” (from 2014’s Somewhere Under Wonderland), while “can you see me?” is tied inexorably to the girl on the car in the parking lot and the emotional climax of 1993’s “Round Here”.
That’s how the Adam Duritz lyrical universe works. It’s an emotional tessellation of trains and planes, sleepy Western towns, angels and memories, and ghosts on ghosts on ghosts. He repeats images and lyrics from one song or album or decade to the next, contorting familiar phrases into surprising new shapes and infusing some of the most common words in English with a weighty legacy.
Sandwiched between those two phrases in “The Tall Grass” is a vivid world of wide-open English skies, innocence lost, a rabbit dying in the grass, and the inescapable sense that we’re all just rabbits shaking as the life slowly drains from us. The composition starts gently then builds steadily to a crescendo, Duritz’s rich voice growing louder and more desperate before finally collapsing into a resigned, repeated, “And I don’t know why…”
As a meditation on mortality, “The Tall Grass” is devastating. As a love song, well, it’s very Adam Duritz, equal parts sentimentality (“Did I ever say the way your breath takes mine away?”) and uncertainty (“I am changing, but all the same things just come back to haunt me.”) No one writes I love you, but we’re probably doomed quite like him.
Despite being a four-track affair, Butter Miracle, Suite One feels expansive. You can talk about the songs individually, but it’s called a suite because each flows seamlessly into the next. The melancholic ending of “The Tall Grass” bleeds into “Elevator Boots”, a catchy rocker with a 1970s aesthetic and twisting, playful lyrics. “Angel of 14th St.” blows through a catalog of vintage Counting Crows imagery—angels and ghosts and feathers abound—before a shrieking guitar solo drops into “Bobby and the Rat-Kings”, a story of aimless small-town youth that would make Springsteen proud.
The EP has a classic rock feel, and Duritz doesn’t dissuade the comparison. The second half of “Bobby and the Rat-Kings” has strong “Thunder Road” vibes, while the slight stutter on the G in the lyric “my generation doesn’t have a name” recalls the Who’s classic hit. The rest of Counting Crows are in impeccable form, helping to meld four disparate compositions into a seamless whole like only a group that’s played together for three decades could.
Four songs in seven years isn’t exactly a wealth of material, but Duritz has never been a prolific writer, and 30 years is a long time to stay creatively inspired. “I was kind of burnt out on music in a lot of ways,” he told Forbes. “Very few people have a life in music that lasts this amount of time.” He’s spent the intervening years in other pursuits: singing on friends’ records, cutting his signature dread-locks, maintaining a long-term relationship, and quietly turning the Counting Crows Instagram into his personal cooking show. The self-styled Rain King now gushes about bucatini recipes and roasts his friends on social media. He recently wished comedian Bob Saget a happy birthday, saying, “Swear to God. Guy’s 65 years old today, and looks… 72″ with impeccable comedic timing. In other words, he’s got a lot going on.
So ultimately, the artistry and quality of Butter Miracle, Suite One isn’t surprising at all. When the creative faucet is on, Adam Duritz is a strong contender for the best songwriter of his generation. The mere fact that this mini-album exists at all, to invite us outside into the tall grass and think about life and death and love—that’s the miracle.