FEATURE: Hidden Treasures: Sheryl Crow – Sheryl Crow




Hidden Treasures

COVER PHOTO: Steen Sundland  

Sheryl Crow – Sheryl Crow


THIS is one of those albums that...

IMAGE CREDIT: Richard Frankel/PHOTOGRAPHY: Melodie McDaniel, Peggy Sirota and Scott Henriksen

scored some of my best days at school. I discovered Sheryl Crow when her debut, Tuesday Night Music Club, arrived in 1993. I was ten when that album came about and remember having my eyes opened by corking songs such as All I Wanna Do and Run Baby Run. I had not really heard a lot of Country and Folk together before; definitely not the same combinations Crow was putting down. I was struck by her beautiful voice and this unique sound. I was compelled to dig deeper and carried Tuesday Night Music Club around with me. That album was written with a collective that was formed by Crow and other musicians. There were disputes after the album was released regarding writing credits and whether her band was being given enough props. Although Crow was at the forefront, perhaps her musicians contributed more than were being given credit for. I love that debut because it sounds so fresh yet has maturity and real depth to it. There were some great reviews for the album but some felt that a few of the songs were half-formed and Crow was yet to find her feet. There is always a risk when you have momentum and you leave a big gap between releases. It took three years for Crow to bring us her eponymous album and, in many ways, the wait was worth it. Sheryl Crow, debatably, is the strongest album she ever released and, this time, songs are fully-formed and instantly golden.

Unlike her debut, Crow took control of production and created the album more in her own vision – a brave and bold move from someone so young. Even though it was her second album, Crow was not going to repeat herself and do what she did before. Most of Sheryl Crow was recorded at Kingsway Studio in New Orleans, Louisiana. Never fully immersed in the Country or Folk scenes, Crow was free to splice genres and bring her own spin. The album features tales regarding heartache and split; American life and ethical issues. It is an accomplished and varied album where the lyrical clout is as impactful as the wonderful compositions and stunning vocals. I was going to stick Sheryl Crow into Vinyl Corner but, instead, I have come up with a new feature for those albums that tend to skip by. It is hard to find Sheryl Crow on vinyl and, in fact, a lot of her back catalogue is quite hard to track. I was determined to cover this album because it is a favourite of mine but, whereas the vinyl is hard to get, you can get it online and enjoy. It is a record we tend to overlook and, compared to The Globe Sessions (1998), it doesn’t get the love it deserves. If Crow’s debut was quite a smooth and traditional album, her eponymous release is more off-kilter and off-balance in terms of the production. There is a lot of fuzz and rich instrumentation; some great little touches that take it out of the ordinary.

There are great songs throughout the album but, rather than stick with ordinary themes and cover the same ground as everyone else, Crow took a different approach. One of its singles, A Change Would Do You Good, is about getting away from a rigid lifestyle and doing something different. Maybe Angels, on the other hand, is about U.F.O.s and conspiracies; a song that you would not find on many other albums. I think Crow said in interviews that it was about finding Kurt Cobain joining John Lennon in a heavenly choir. It is a strange thing to focus on but the song sounds amazing and totally works! Crow talks about gun control and abortion; she tackles these big themes and areas that needed to be addressed. There were some bold artists back in 1996 but consider the leap between Tuesday Night Music Club and Sheryl Crow. In terms of sound, lyrics and production, you can see this immense gulf. That is not a bad thing but it is clear Crow had hit a peak on her second album. If It Makes You Happy is my favourite song from the record and started life with a very different sound. It was alternately twangy and Punk-like; it went through different machinations before arriving at where it ended. Everyday Is a Winding Road features Crowded House’s Neil Finn on harmony vocals and there are these standout moments. The singles are great but Sheryl Crow is solid throughout.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Sheryl Crow in 1996/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I love how many different movements there are and how each song has its own personality. You get the rush of If It Makes You Happy and the familiar twang of Everyday Is a Winding Road. Elsewhere, Superstar and Ordinary Morning find Crow embracing different sounds and she sounds completely released and free throughout. Some of the contemporary reviews for Sheryl Crow were a little muted – perhaps inspired by the sound happening in 1996 and how they album fitted in – but retrospective reviews have given the music time to sink in and strike. AllMusic drilled down to the heart of Sheryl Crow:

And, even with the Stonesy grind of "Sweet Rosalyn" or hippie spirits of "Love Is a Good Thing," it is an album that couldn't have been made any other time than the '90s. As strange as it may sound, Sheryl Crow is a postmodern masterpiece of sorts -- albeit a mainstream, post-alternative, postmodern masterpiece. It may not be as hip or innovative as, say, the Beastie BoysPaul's Boutique, but it is as self-referential, pop culture obsessed, and musically eclectic. Throughout the record, Crow spins out wild, nearly incomprehensible stream-of-consciousness lyrics, dropping celebrity names and products every chance she gets ("drinking Falstaff beer/Mercedes Ruehl and a rented Leer"). Often, these litanies don't necessarily add up to anything specific, but they're a perfect match for the mess of rock, blues, alt-rock, country, folk, and lite hip-hop loops that dominate the record. At her core, she remains a traditionalist -- the songcraft behind the infectious "Change Would Do You Good," the bubbly "Everyday Is a Winding Road," and the weary "If It Makes You Happy" helped get the singles on the radio -- but the production and lyrics are often at odds with those instincts, creating for a fascinating and compelling (and occasionally humorous) listen and one of the most individual albums of its era”.

SLANT, in 2003, had their say:

As always, Crow’s lyrics take a decidedly moralistic stance but never sound preachy. “Hard to Make a Stand” touches on abortion clinic terrorism while “Love Is a Good Thing” sees the solution to the world’s problems in the same four-letter word so many other rockers have enthusiastically endorsed over the years. Crow makes subtle references to the Beatles’ “Love Is All You Need,” but not before giving us a dose of modern reality: “Watch our children while they kill each other/With a gun they bought at Walmart discount stores.” This is certainly not the same hippie mentality of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and one can’t help but think that Crow is a tad less confident with her miracle product than, say, Lennon ever was. “These are the days when anything goes,” she sings on the buoyant “Everyday Is a Winding Road,” and the sentiment speaks for both the song’s playful optimism and the album’s sonic adventurousness. Crow has had some other great moments (“Leaving Las Vegas,” “My Favorite Mistake”), but none of her other full-length albums have been as consistent, immaculately produced or distinctly modern”.

Crow would go on to The Globe Sessions in 1998 and, whereas there were big hits to be found, it is less individual and surprising as her eponymous album. I think Sheryl Crow was the natural maturation from her bar days and playing with her band and having more of a say. She leapt in confidence from her debut and, despite some legal difficulties, was able to conquer new ground and produce a more rounded and complete album.

It is a shame one cannot get Sheryl Crow on vinyl but listen to it on streaming services. It is a fantastic release and one that marked her out as one of the most promising artists in the music world. The Globe Sessions would give us some of my favourite songs from her – including There Goes the Neighbourhood and My Favourite Mistake – but I love all the flavours and contrasts of Sheryl Crow. There are big hits like If It Makes You Happy but she really strikes a chord when it comes to more sensitive and big topics. Not only does this artist break from the mainstream in terms of predictability and use music to address important areas but she did it without alienating and preaching. I feel we overlook Sheryl Crow and do not realise how important it is as an album. It is one of the best albums from the 1990s and you can hear elements of the record in many artists today. Not many articles exist praising the album – I feel that this is wrong. Crow is still recording today and has changed a bit since her early days. I love what she does now but I get this warm tinge and sense of joy when listening to her eponymous album. I was thirteen when it really started to hit me and kept it close as I went through high-school. It was among the most essential releases for me and was a favourite with my friends too. If you want to discover a great album from the past that you might have missed first time around, have a listen to Sheryl Crow and fall for all its brilliance. It is one of the most complete and satisfying albums I have heard and I think it sounds fresh today – almost twenty-three years after its release. I am going to spin it now but, if you are used to listening to the same music and get stuck in a rut; have a gander at Sheryl Crow’s eponymous album and realise that a change…

WOULD do you good.