Life is full of lucky strokes and defining moments. Born into a musical family Sheryl Crow's first concert was Peter Frampton. Fortunately, that experience didn't deter her musical ambitions. She began writing songs at thirteen and played in local groups before leaving her native Missouri for L.A. in '86. There she found backing vocal work with Don Henley, Joe Cocker and Rod Stewart. It wasn't long before she was recording her first album. But the project was later shelved. Too slick. There was nothing that separated it from a million other things that are recorded.
In limbo, trying to put together another album, Crow was invited to an informal mid-week jam session called the Tuesday Night Music Club, a name she lifted for her '93 CD. This looser approach served her well. "Run Baby Run" was an incredible song. Of course it went nowhere. However, "All I Wanna Do" with its slice of life humor and pseudo-adlib lines was irresistible. "Leaving Las Vegas" still had an air of spontaneity but sounded more structured.
"Sheryl Crow," her second CD, premiered in '96 and drew the wrath of Wal-Mart who banned the album because of the line "Watch our children as they kill each other, with a gun they bought at the Wal-Mart discount store." "Love Is A Good Thing" wasn't for Wal-Mart. Some people are so touchy.
Crow had two songs used in the "Erin Brockovich" movie ("Redemption Day" and "Every Day Is A Winding Road"). She also recorded a live album with some "friends" (Eric Clapton, Stevie Nicks, etc)" in New York's Central Park. The CD included Crow originals and a few classics like "Tombstone Blues." '02 saw the release of "C'mon, C'mon" featuring the uplifting "Soak Up The Sun" and "Steve McQueen." Both songs returned the following year as part of the career compilation, "The Very Best of Sheryl Crow." But she wasn't done yet. Crow became romantically involved with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. The couple met at a charity event in October '03 and began dating a short time later. With her personal life on an upswing, Crow released "Wildflower," in '05, which she produced with Jeff Trott and John Shanks. Both Trott and Shanks played on the album.
For all the gossip mongers, the Crow/Armstrong pairing ended in early '06.
"This is the most honest record I've ever made," said Crow of her '08 album "Detours." " It's about being forced to wake up." Working again with producer Bill Bottrell ("Tuesday Night Music Club") Crow's sixth studio album had songs relating to personal issues ("Diamond Ring"/"Now That You're Gone"), her battle with breast cancer ("Make It Go Away") and politics ("Gasoline"). "The songs are very inspired by the last three years of events in my life," added Crow.
"Detours," which was recorded at Crow's Nashville farm, sold more than 140,000 copies in its first two weeks and peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200.
A deluxe 2CD/DVD version of "Tuesday Night Music Club" landed in '09 with the addition of unreleased tracks and b-sides. The DVD contained the videos for each of the album's singles.
Crow issued her seventh album "100 Miles From Memphis," in July, '10. She got help from a diverse collection of performers ranging from the Stones' Keith Richards to pop singer/actor Justin Timberlake. "Summer Day" was the lead single.
1993 Tuesday Night Music Club
1996 Sheryl Crow
1998 The Globe Sessions
2002 C'mon C'mon
2010 100 Miles From Memphis
"Tuesday Night Music Club" is Crow's best CD. The beat poet hip of "All I Wanna Do" and the "caught in life's misadventures," "Leaving Las Vegas" are the primary reasons. However, "Sheryl Crow," "The Globe Sessions" and "C'mon C'mon" are also recommended.
What made Crow a success was her ability to give songs just enough of a twist to make them interesting while riding an irresistible riff or beat. On "Wildflower" the down tempo songs and sparse arrangements often expose Crow's reed thin vocals. Though melodic, they are often nondescript efforts. A couple notable exceptions are the energetic "Letter To God" and the catchy "Live It Up." This is the sort of CD that's usually featured at your neighborhood Starbucks.
"Detours" is another relatively low-key, relaxed album. The opening track "God Bless This Mess" is a guitar/vocal track that almost sounds like a demo. It sends the message that there are weighty issues ahead that need the unvarnished truth (as opposed to unnecessary gloss and glitter). Crow's conversational style comes poring out of "Shine Over Babylon" and the politically explosive "Gasoline." But she can still jangle loosely, with a grin and a beat, on the casually airy "Love Is Free" and "Out Of Our Heads" (with the line "we need to get out of our heads and into our hearts").
Oddly, the personal songs, "Make It Go Away (Radiation Song)" and the slow Blues of "Diamond Ring" are simply OK. The emotional depth is there but the songs fail to gel. On the other hand, "Love Is All There Is" stands as one of the best pop songs Crow has ever recorded.
"My last record ("Detours") was pretty political, extremely personal, and more lyric-driven," said Crow. "So it seemed like a great time to do something soulful and sexy and more driven by the music." With that in mind, "100 Miles From Memphis" (approximately where Crow grew up) could be called her R&B album. The '100 miles' in the title can be particularly telling, not only in terms of geography but as relatively close she gets to the true grit of Rhythm and Blues.
Crow's inherent charisma and polish is evident when she covers Terence Trent D'Arby's "Sign Your Name" and the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back." She captures the sexuality of the former and the spunk of the latter coming close to nailing Michael's vocal inflections.
Though the Stones Keith Richards adds his guitar to the Reggae leaning "Eye To Eye" the song is closer to pop than Jamaica but that's not necessarily bad. Crow gives the song its own vibe, which is actually hers.
But these songs are not what make "100 Miles From Memphis" impressive. Rather, the driving tracks that use R&B touchstones; percolating sax ("Our Love Is Fading"), the wall of horns ("Summer Day") and the full choir ("Say What You Want") that gives the album its appeal. The ballads ("Stop" and "Sideways") are emotive and melodic but it's the title track that brings it all home.
The career retrospective, "The Very Best Of Sheryl Crow," is a good choice (released in '03, it's not all inclusive). A large part of Crow's appeal is her casual energy with the ability to catch everyday moments in an askew light. With a couple new songs added, this set captures those gems.
"Sheryl Crow and Friends: Live In Central Park" is exactly what the title indicates. It has its moments but get the studio albums first.