Thursday, August 26, 2010


I have really been digging Sheryl Crow's 100 Miles From Memphis album. It is a great album for the front porch, or backyard, on a hot summer night. I've been a fan of Sheryl's since her first album came out Tuesday Night Music Club.  I remember going to Tower Records and listening to the albums on the listening kiosks, when I came across hers.  I thought I recognized her name (I may have - she sang backing vocals on a Don Henley album, and also at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration concert - and as a liner notes reader, I'm sure I'd read her name) and I checked it out.  She never really seemed to fit in with anything - she would have made more sense as part of the pop or rock landscape in the '60s or (especially) '70s. She kept cranking out albums that had hit after hit.  She got to tour with, or collaborate with, so many great artists (not the least of whom were The Rolling Stones and Stevie Nicks both of whom were huge influences on her). I was glad to see her success, she seems like a good person, plays benefit concerts and supports causes that I believe in.

She kind of lost me in 2005 with Wildflower, which I just couldn't get into, and I didn't like the follow-up, 2008's Detours either (with the exception of "Gasoline," which featured Ben Harper). Which makes this new album so sweet. The title is a reference to where she grew up, but the sound on the album is very influenced by the soul music that she listened to as a kid. It's not gimmicky, and it's not a stretch for her to do this album at all. There's a few guests (Keith Richards, Justin Timberlake, Citizen Cope), but it's not an "all-star" album... in fact, Timberlake just does guest vocals... I'm sure a full on duet would have been more "marketable." There's a few covers (Terrence Trent D'Arby's "Sign Your Name," Cope's "Sideways," The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back") but it's not a "covers" album, and her original songs, including "Our Love Is Fading" and "Summer Day," hold up to them.  In the spirit of classic albums, she uses the musicians who make sense on the songs.  She does covers that she's inspired to do, without following a marketing department's guidelines (which may hurt her sales, but at least she's charting her own course - which she should be doing). The musicians on the album are really in the pocket - it's not an old-school "live on the floor" thing (or it doesn't seem to be, since her collaborators Doyle Bramhall II and Justin Stanley play multiple instruments on lots of songs).

I remember a few years ago, Sheryl got a short haircut.  I remember reading that she claimed that cutting her hair hurt her career.  I don't know if I buy that: uncommercial albums (Wildflower and Detours) are what I think really hurt her career. If those albums were what she had to do at the time, fine.  Neil Young has uncommerical albums too. But I would challenge Crow to compare the songs on those two album with her first four: they're just not as catchy.

But I think the cover of her new album kind of tells the tale: she has her long hair, she looks gorgeous, and she looks like she enjoys being gorgeous.  She's been through a lot in her personal life, and this album just feels kind of triumphant, and even on "Summer Day," happy (which is nice, given her struggles with depression). In ten and twenty years, you could play some of these songs alongside her classic rock influences (The Stones, Stevie, The Allmans, and lest I forget, Crowded House who should be considered classic rock) and they would sound not at all out of place next to them. Way to go Sheryl!

No comments: