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Sheryl Crow

Always destined to be an entertainer, as both her parents (Bernice and Wendell) had been Big Band musicians, country girl at heart, SHERYL CROW, is to many the epitome of good-time, balladeering roots-rock. An international star achieving multi-platinum status, a raft of Grammys, and a consecutive run of Top 10 studio albums in her native land, Sheryl is up there with the greatest female singers from BONNIE RAITT to ALANIS MORISSETTE.
Born February 11, 1962, Kennett, Missouri, she played piano at 6 (taught to her by her mother), wrote her first song at 13 (although she’s shy about singing it), graduated from the University of Missouri (with a Music Performance degree) and played in a covers combo called Cashmere. Having left university after studying classical music, Sheryl subsequently relocated to St. Louis where she worked with autistic kids by day, and a singer for a second covers act, P.M., by night.
In 1986, Sheryl packed up and drove to Los Angeles and, with a few session vocal workouts behind her, she finally cut her teeth (as Shirley Crow) on MICHAEL JACKSON’s “Bad” 18-month-long world tour. But geared towards the productive dance market, record companies baulked on her idea of becoming a singer-songwriter, as she fell into bouts of depression.
The promising star bounced back and earned her crust by performing back-up for ROD STEWART, STEVIE WONDER, DON HENLEY, SINEAD O’CONNOR, FOREIGNER and JOE COCKER, while a few of her songs were respectively picked up by country starlet WYNONA JUDD, pop-diva CELINE DION and funk-pop act LISA LISA & CULT JAM.
With ambitions again of becoming a solo artist, Sheryl handed a demo tape to producer, Hugh Padgham, whom, with a recommendation from STING, got her signed to A&M in 1991. An album of ballad-addled songs was duly shelved, but with the help of then boyfriend, engineer Kevin Gilbert, and a second producer, Bill Bottrill (alongside seasoned players/co-writers Brian MacLeod, David Baerwald, Dan Schwartz and David Ricketts), SHERYL CROW emerged in August 1993 with an album title dedicated to this loose collective: TUESDAY NIGHT MUSIC CLUB {*7}. Although the record didn’t sell immediately, it became a deserved smash a year later after a support slot to a re-formed EAGLES and a well-received appearance at Woodstock II. Suddenly her album turned gold and a 45, `All I Wanna Do’, almost soared to No.1. Its easy going infectious swing was characteristic of the album as a whole, while the singer’s EDIE BRICKELL-meets-SUZANNE VEGA-esque narratives translated into a string of further global and Brit hits over the course of the next few years: namely `Can’t Cry Anymore’, `Strong Enough’, `Leaving Las Vegas’, `What I Can Do For You’ and the evocative `Run, Baby, Run’.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Missouri-raised 30-something. What might’ve been swept under the carpet as something said in under-pressure quick-fire jest from her after-song interview with David Letterman, it was suggested by her that `Leaving Las Vegas’ was autobiographical. The fact that it was mainly penned by David Baerwald and centred around a book by his buddy John O’Brien (which inspired the film), was indeed cutting to her estranged band who’d helped her rise to the top; when O’Brien committed suicide not long after the movie’s release and former Beau Gilbert was found dead of autoerotic asphyxiation in May 1996, finger-pointing and controversy were laid at Sheryl’s door. Subsequent work with co-scriber Bottrill for her sophomore set was unceremoniously cancelled, leaving CROW to produce the record herself; as it turned out, engineered by Tchad Blake and assisted by Mitchell Froom.
Now as much of a female superstar as the aforementioned MORISSETTE, Sheryl scored another transatlantic Top 10 with `If It Makes You Happy’. Arguably her finest moment to date, the song had a gritty passion somewhat missing from her previous work, while the rootsier, harder-hitting sound indicated the direction of the accompanying long-player. Simply titled, SHERYL CROW (1996) {*8}, the record saw her paying homage to her musical heroes, primarily The ROLLING STONES, but also DYLAN. A second transatlantic success, the set spawned further classic hits in `Everyday Is A Winding Road’, `Hard To Make A Stand’, `Home’ and `A Change Would Do You Good’.
A crowd-buoying performance at a mud-caked Glastonbury Festival proved she was made of sterner stuff than her glossy image might’ve suggested. Sheryl undoubtedly had the potential, it was just a shame that she didn’t harness it more often. A Lilith Fair performance and her self-penned hit theme song to James Bond’s `Tomorrow Never Comes’, kept the CROW profile high and flying among her fans, and er… critics.
By the time her third album, THE GLOBE SESSIONS (1998) {*6} was issued, Sheryl had had a hard time maintaining her rockier, roots-y edge, while also trying to take the album in a different direction. Songs such as `There Goes The Neighborhood’ displayed her usual pop-rock motif, albeit with jangling Stones-like guitars (from now stalwart co-writer Jeff Trott) used to almost overkill. Standout tracks on the album came from her ability to create beautiful and unrestrained ballads; `Riverwide’ was a lush, sweeping track that oozed Celtic overtones, while `Mississippi’ – an actual outtake from DYLAN’s `Time Out Of Mind’ – was perhaps the strongest song on the whole set.
After donating her hit interpretation of GUNS N’ ROSES’ `Sweet Child O’ Mine’ to the Adam Sandler movie vehicle, Big Daddy, CROW took her show on the road, performing her final concert of the year free at the Big Apple’s Central Park. The resulting concert album, predictably-titled LIVE IN CENTRAL PARK (1999) {*4}, was more than just a run-through of her hits, more so a country-roots recording accompanied on several tracks by the likes of STEVIE NICKS, KEITH RICHARDS, ERIC CLAPTON, CHRISSIE HYNDE, SARAH McLACHLAN and The DIXIE CHICKS; failing to breech the Top 100 and also showcasing respective covers of FLEETWOOD MAC’s `Gold Dust Woman’, The ROLLING STONES’ `Happy’ and CREAM’s `White Room’ (plus DYLAN’s `Tombstone Blues’), the record didn’t translate as well on record as it did on paper; maybe former B-sides: `I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday’ (FATS DOMINO) and `D’yer Maker’ (LED ZEPPELIN), might’ve been better suited.
Back from production work for NICKS (on her `Trouble In Shangri-La’ set) and a collaboration with KID ROCK (on the single `Picture’), with 2002’s C’MON C’MON {*7} it seemed as if the singer had finally hit upon the right balance of roots revival, pop nous, confident writing and rock star guts, which she’d always seemed capable of attaining. The rest of the album carried on where hit single `Soak Up The Sun’ left off; the sound of an artist in her element at last. She was clearly having a STEVE MILLER ball on one of the album’s best tracks, as the “Take The Money And Run”-like whoops of `Steve McQueen’ (another UK-only hit) suggested. A clever interpretation of CAT STEVENS’ `The First Cut Is The Deepest’, bolstered sales of a “greatest hits” record as things moved smoothly for the soft-rocker.
CROW seemed an unlikely candidate for celebrity couple status, but her relationship with Tour de France cyclist (and 7-times winner-cum-cheater), Lance Armstrong, generated a fair amount of press coverage. WILDFLOWER (2005) {*6} replicated the chart positions (transatlantic No.2) of its predecessor, while the music/lyrics didn’t quite remain the same, influenced as they were by Sheryl’s surprise romance. Touted as a BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN-style double-whammy, the record eventually appeared as a single disc, bearing the kind of svelte production and moonlit, homespun melody that suggested a lost Laurel Canyon classic. Modest US hits, `Good Is Good’ and `Always On Your Side’, were overshadowed by the quaint title track and the strum-friendly ballad, `I Don’t Wanna Know’, but it seemed Sheryl’s better days – at least creatively – were behind her.
The singer’s life entered a period of turmoil early in 2006 as the announcement of her separation from Armstrong was closely followed by the revelation that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully, it was caught early and fully eradicated enough for Sheryl to make appearances, starting in May at Orlando’s SAP Sapphire Convention.
DETOURS (2008) {*7} confirmed she was still at the top of her game, at least in sales, as it strode to No.2 in the charts (No.20 in Britain). Adopting a baby (whom she named Wyatt) might’ve taken up more than a little of her time, but with Bottrill back at the production helm in her Nashville studio barn, another Grammy nomination was granted the set. Once again inspired by DYLAN’s folk-rock anthems of the 60s, `Shine Over Babylon’, stood out from the pack.
Bypassing a rather stale festive set, HOME FOR CHRISTMAS (2008) {*4}, and not forgetting the adoption of a second baby (Levi James) in April 2010, 100 MILES FROM MEMPHIS (2010) {*6}, stretched her talents into the world of soul, pop-rock and roots. Recalling DUSTY SPRINGFIELD’s “In Memphis” set of the 60s and littered with session people and a guest spot from KEITH RICHARDS (on `Eye To Eye’), the Doyle Bramhall II and Jason Stanley-produced record was high on the Richter groove scale. Bolstered by a cover of TERENCE TRENT D’ARBY’s `Sign Your Name’ (joined by JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE on backing vocals), and finding classic sunny-day cool by way of `Our Love Is Fading’, `Long Road Home’ and `Say What You Want’, CROW was still counting on her seductive vibe to pull her through.
A second major health scare was revealed when she was found to have a brain tumour, which by the spring of 2012, was thankfully benign. Subsequently signed to Warner Bros and reuniting her love of country via album number seven, FEELS LIKE LOVE (2013) {*5}, her “re-invention” was very much in the mould of SHANIA TWAIN, SHELBY LYNNE and SHAWN COLVIN. Either pulling the heartstrings through `Waterproof Mascara’, getting snuggled in at the fireside with `Easy’, or having a night out with the boys in `We Oughta Be Drinkin’’ (she admits to having a penchant for beer), Sheryl adhered to all the simple template rules of going country. Pity it’s been done exactly the same or better a thousand (nay, a million!) times over.
Recanting her country fervour when that proved critically flaccid, SHERYL CROW administered her own kind of roots by bringing back producers Jeff Trott and Tchad Blake for the ironically-named BE MYSELF (2017) {*6}. As it turned out, the record registered her worst ever studio-set performance at #22 – who was it that said “rock’n’roll never forgets”. Anyway, as contemporary singer/songwriter albums go, there were pass marks for the provocative and/or plaintive `Alone In The Dark’, `Roller Skate’, `Strangers Again’ and the title track.
Possibly as a result of her recent showings, Sheryl re-emerged the following summer as a harder-edged roots-rock duchess; two singles, one as a feature with comeback kings REEF (`My Sweet Love’) and the other with Annie Clark (aka ST. VINCENT) on the tasty `Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You’. The obligatory concert double-CD/DVD set, entitled LIVE AT THE CAPITOL THEATER – 2017 BE MYSELF TOUR (2018) {*6}, was dispatched to fill stockings by the people at Cleopatra Records.
26 years from her big “Music Club” breakthrough, 57 year-old Sheryl donned her Stetson, cowboy boots and jeans for what just might be her swansong Top 30 set, THREADS (2019) {*7}. A cozy contemporary country-roots record of MOR covers, collaborations and duets, singer-songwriter CROW surrounded herself with a star-studded cast of Nashville’s finest: topped by CHRIS STAPLETON (on `Tell Me When It’s Over’), JASON ISBELL (on DYLAN’s `Everything Is Broken’), VINCE GILL (`For The Sake Of Love’) and stalwarts WILLIE NELSON, KRIS KRISTOFFERSON, EMMYLOU HARRIS and a posthumous JOHNNY CASH. As for the songs themselves, CLAPTON, STING and BRANDI CARLILE buffeted a heartfelt reading of GEORGE HARRISON’s `Beware Of Darkness’, whilst KEITH RICHARDS himself featured on his (and Mick J’s) `The Worst’. And as with most albums of late, the importance of a good start was emphasised on openers, `Prove You Wrong’ (ft. STEVIE NICKS & MAREN MORRIS) and `Live Wire’ (ft. BONNIE RAITT & MAVIS STAPLES); listen out too for a peppering of JOE WALSH, JAMES TAYLOR, CHUCK D and that aforementioned ST. VINCENT dual spin.
© MC Strong 1995-2006/MCS/BG // rev-up MCS Jan2014-Sep2019

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