As a band known for its live covers, the Counting Crows' decision to record an album of other artists' material just felt right, lead guitarist Dan Vickrey says.
The new collection - "Underwater Sunshine (or what we did on our summer vacation)" (Collective Sounds) - includes some well-known tracks, such as Gram Parsons' "Return of the Grievous Angel." But the record mostly focuses on lesser known material, such as The Romany Rye's "Untitled (Love Song)."
"It's a tradition with Counting Crows - we have always covered other bands," says Vickrey, who performs with the band 8 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa's Event Center in Atlantic City. "It started on our first tour when we didn't have enough songs to fill out the set."
Indeed, longtime fans will recognize album tracks "Mercy" and "Jumping Jesus" as staples of the band's recent sets.
Lead singer "Adam (Duritz) and the band feel strongly that there are a lot of great singer-songwriters you'll never hear about and want to shed some light on them," Vickrey says.
To Vickrey, who co-wrote the Counting Crows' Oscar-nominated "Accidentally in Love" for "Shrek 2," tracks like Kasey Anderson's "Teenage Gravity" sound as if they could have been penned by the band itself.
"The idea was to pick songs we love - Adam has to love singing them, he has to have an emotional attachment to them," Vickrey says. "The idea was to take songs people might not be familiar with, regardless of whether the person is well-known. I'm happy we did a good job of making it our own."
The process of making a song their own was both organic and deliberate. For "Hospital" by Coby Brown, members took the demo and broke it down in a way that fit the band's musical sensibility.
"You have to think about the structure and what makes sense to play as a band - how we structure songs," Vickrey says. "The rest is the band playing it - the band creates its own world."
Given that the Counting Crows have gone as long as six years between studio albums, the collection of covers gives members breathing room until they're ready to make new music again.
"Bob Dylan has done two cover records - it's not uncommon to take a breath and reconnect with something you feel, and not have to create something ourselves," Vickrey says. "That part of the process can only help with the next record."
The release of "Underwater Sunshine" has added a new spark to the band's live sets, which are known for their spontaneous jams.
"They're fun to play because we've never played them," Vickrey says of the new material.
The setlist includes three to five of the covers, paired with material from the band's catalog.
The Counting Crows, which formed in 1991 at the height of the alternative rock moment, enjoyed its biggest hit with the up-tempo "Mr. Jones," but is better known for its moodier tracks, such as "Round Here" and "A Long December."
The combination of old and new hopefully will prove inspirational on stage.
"Adam is a songwriter and singer who likes to explore the emotions of a song," Vickrey says.
And the band will follow his lead?
"Or we lead him," he says.
Cover Dylan? No Pressure Here
It seems like one thing to cover a Bob Dylan song in concert, and quite another more daunting task to commit to a version for an album.
But Counting Crows guitarist Dan Vickrey says the band didn't feel any extra pressure tackling material by Dylan, left, Gram Parsons and Fairport Convention on its collection of covers called "Underwater Sunshine (or what we did on our summer vacation)" (Collective Sounds).
"I think you just do the version that's in you - you can't force anything, you just play it," he says.
In the case of Parsons' "Return of the Grievous Angel," which has been covered by Emmylou Harris, right, among others, the song was a novelty for Vickrey when the band first started performing it a decade ago.
"At the time, I hadn't heard the original version," he says. "That helps in some way. You play what naturally comes. We got to do a version once with Emmylou Harris and had a blast, bringing it full circle."