SH­ERYL CROW’S PLANS? ‘BE MY­SELF’

Singer-song­writer sig­nals as much on her en­gag­ing new al­bum

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - RANDY LEWIS NASHVILLE —

Sh­eryl Crow pulled up a stool and sat down at the counter in the spa­cious kitchen of her farm­house about 15 kilo­me­tres out of down­town Nashville.

It’s casual Thurs­day on the Crow fam­ily spread that she shares with her two sons, who are in school this morn­ing while she greets a vis­i­tor. She’s sport­ing a fad­ing Bruce Spring­steen T-shirt, well-bro­ken-in jeans and black boots, an en­sem­ble that’s more about func­tion than fash­ion, com­fort not cou­ture.

Just five nights ear­lier, she was on stage at the Troubadour in West Hol­ly­wood, where she gave a bois­ter­ous crowd of about 500 fans their first sam­pling of ma­te­rial from her lat­est al­bum, “Be My­self,” which came out April 21 through her new record deal with Warner Bros. Records.

Her sons, how­ever — Wy­att, 9, and Levi, 6 — had ad­vice for Crow the per­former.

“The kids were like, ‘You’re not go­ing to wear that, are you?’” she said, an un­forced laugh ac­com­pa­ny­ing the mem­ory of her de­ci­sion to sport a lived-in Mickey Mouse Tshirt. “I said, ‘Yeah, it’s com­fort­able.’ They’re like, ‘You sleep in that, Mom — you can’t wear that on stage!’”

It’s one mea­sure of her evo­lu­tion from fash­ion plate of the 1990s, a woman who in­spired le­gions of fans and would-be singer-song­writ­ers to fol­low the trail she blazed with her break­through al­bum, “Tues­day Night Mu­sic Club,” to her po­si­tion to­day as a bea­con of re­li­a­bil­ity in an ever-chang­ing world.

It’s quickly ap­par­ent that her top pri­or­ity these days is be­ing a sin­gle mother to the chil­dren she adopted in 2007 and 2010, re­spec­tively, and she doesn’t hes­i­tate — in con­ver­sa­tion or in song — to voice her hopes and dreams as well as hear con­cerns about the world in which she’s rais­ing them.

Such thoughts and emo­tions come up of­ten on “Be My­self,” on which she col­lab­o­rated again with her long­time song­writ­ing part­ner Jeff Trott, whom she light­heart­edly calls “my mu­si­cal hus­band.”

“We have to try so hard to be liked: to get ‘Likes,’ not to get dis­liked, not to lose fol­low­ers, to try to be cool like every­body else is cool,” she said about one of the themes she has tack­led in song. “I think a lot about the pres­sure of that. I feel so grate­ful to be my age and not have to think about that. I can be the dorky mom my kids think I am and take pride in that.”

The new al­bum is a re­turn to the core Sh­eryl Crow sound af­ter a rootsy de­tour into more ru­ral ter­ri­tory on her 2013 ef­fort, “Feels Like Home,” which she co-pro­duced with vet­eran Nashville pro­ducer Justin Niebank.

In true Mu­sic City style, she teamed with a num­ber of Nashville’s most suc­cess­ful song­writ­ers, among them Brad Pais­ley, Chris Sta­ple­ton, Brandy Clark, Shane McA­nally, Chris DuBois, Luke Laird, Al An­der­son and Natalie Hemby.

Ul­ti­mately, it wasn’t an en­tirely re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for her.

“That record was fully en­joy­able to make,” she said. “I felt I re­ally stretched my­self as a song­writer. I forced my­self to sit in a room with writ­ers from Nashville, and that was good for me. I felt there was good song­writ­ing on the record. I had no ex­pec­ta­tion for the record (in terms of sales), but what I didn’t ex­pect is that (coun­try ra­dio pro­gram­mers) re­ally don’t play women un­less it’s Car­rie (Un­der­wood) and Mi­randa (Lam­bert).

“The other thing I didn’t ex­pect is how much you have to make your­self avail­able to record pro­mot­ers and ra­dio pro­gram­mers,” she said. “That was some­thing I never had to do be­fore. The amount of nights I spent away from my kids I can’t get back, and I made a prom­ise at the end of it that I’d never do that again.”

So this time around, she hun­kered down in the cosy home stu­dio that sits above the kitchen and front room of her house. Strolling up the stairs to the stu­dio, she can pop open the top half of a Dutch door, al­low­ing one of her horses to me­an­der over and poke his or her head in for a quick stroke on the nose or an equine treat.

“Jeff moved (to Nashville) last June,” she said, “be­cause he wanted to do more song­writ­ing, and he felt this was a good place to raise his kids. He and I got to­gether and we just started play­ing around in the stu­dio, like we do — him on gui­tar, me on bass and this re­ally cre­ative pro­gram­mer. We wound up writ­ing three songs pretty quickly, and we looked at each other and said, ‘Man, we have a record in us.’

“We got to­gether a cou­ple more times, and by the time we’d done that four or five times, we had 17 songs,” she said. “There was so much to write about, gosh, from tech­nol­ogy to fear of what was go­ing on in pol­i­tics to what’s go­ing on in peo­ple’s minds and the chasm be­tween peo­ple. It was like barf­ing out lyrics,” she said with an­other hearty laugh.

In “Half­way There,” she broaches the sub­ject of bridg­ing what can seem like an ever-widen­ing gulf among peo­ple with dif­fer­ent in­ter­ests and pri­or­i­ties: “You pull up in your Hum­mer and you park next to my Volt. Wear­ing an Ar­mani three­piece, I wear Levi’s full of holes/ Well I walk on the left side, and you walk along the right/ We’re both try­ing to reach the same place, we might not get there on time.”

She ad­dresses the chal­lenge of try­ing to forge hu­man re­la­tion­ships in the age of so­cial me­dia and 24/7 con­nec­tiv­ity with the world in “Roller skate”: “I want some at­ten­tion/ I wanna put you cen­tre stage/ I don’t want com­pe­ti­tion, So put your phone away, let’s roller skate.”

“It’s sort of in­sur­mount­able to me that how we nav­i­gate through re­la­tion­ships nowa­days with this gad­get that ex­ists be­tween us,” she said. “It’s sup­posed to be a means of com­mu­ni­cat­ing, yet it robs us of our abil­ity to ex­pe­ri­ence em­pa­thy.”

And she and Trott cooked up a tale of in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal in­trigue in “A Heart­beat Away”: “You bet the pres­i­dent is sweat­ing/ While Rus­sia’s blow­ing up the phone/ Deny, deny ev­ery­thing but still let’s/ Throw that ra­bid dog a bone.”

As up to-the-minute as it sounds, it was writ­ten last year, and the al­bum was fin­ished be­fore the Novem­ber elec­tion of Don­ald Trump.

“When we wrote about that there wasn’t any pres­ence of Rus­sia” in the news, she said. “But when you write an es­pi­onage song, you think about ‘Who are the bad guys?’ Who are the ob­vi­ous bad guys? You’re like, this will never hap­pen. And then you end up do­ing a song talk­ing about Rus­sia. I love the way that art works.”

For the most part, she said, she and Trott tapped into the work pat­tern that yielded them such hits for her as “If It Makes You Happy,” “Ev­ery­day Is a Wind­ing Road” and “Soak Up the Sun.” Not sur­pris­ingly, that has pro­duced an al­bum that sounds like clas­sic Sh­eryl Crow, full of funky, puls­ing rhythms em­a­nat­ing from her lithe bass gui­tar lines and hook-filled cho­ruses that quickly work their way into lis­ten­ers’ ears.

She has yet an­other al­bum on track pos­si­bly for re­lease next year, one in which she recorded with sev­eral of her mu­si­cal he­roes she has be­friended over the years. It grew out of a ses­sion she did a few years ago with Kris Kristof­fer­son, who has strug­gled in re­cent years with fail­ing mem­ory, a con­di­tion ini­tially di­ag­nosed as Alzheimer’s but last year re-di­ag­nosed as a re­sult of Lyme dis­ease.

“When I left, I felt ex­tremely melan­choly about life,” she said. “That was on the tail end of pro­mot­ing the coun­try record. I started feel­ing like, ‘Oh, man, I am so blessed to have known my he­roes.’ But I was feel­ing like I’ve spent no time cap­tur­ing my re­la­tion­ships ar­tis­ti­cally. I’ve showed up for ev­ery­thing — I’ve recorded with a lot of peo­ple, I’ve pro­duced peo­ple, but I’ve not asked peo­ple to come in and record with me. So I started ask­ing.”

The out­come was an al­bum of duets that is ex­pected to fea­ture Crow with Wil­lie Nel­son, Ste­vie Nicks, Don Hen­ley, Neil Young and oth­ers. “Ev­ery­one has been ex­ceed­ingly ac­com­mo­dat­ing but also re­ally lov­ing about it.”

She’s try­ing to carry that at­ti­tude for­ward, even though to­day’s tense po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion has made it in­creas­ingly hard for her to feel a real di­a­logue with those who don’t share her pro­gres­sive phi­los­o­phy.

“I had a great con­ver­sa­tion af­ter Trump was elected with this med­i­ta­tion teacher,” she said. “One of the things she said to me that res­onated for all things is, ‘Love what is lov­able and have com­pas­sion for what isn’t.’”

That brought her back to the topic of mu­sic not just as a form of en­ter­tain­ment or even in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sion but as an agent of trans­for­ma­tion, some­thing she’s leaned on in deal­ing with the non-in­va­sive form of breast can­cer with which she was di­ag­nosed in 2007 and the brain tu­mour she was dis­cov­ered to have in 2011.

“Hav­ing been a can­cer sur­vivor,” she said, “I’ve had so many con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple about the meta­phys­i­cal, about the ac­tual phys­i­cal, cel­lu­lar (as­pects of the hu­man body), about how our cells have a round shape when we are at peace, or in peace, and how our cells do not look or even work the same way when you are stressed.

“I think it’s true of mu­sic — and laugh­ter,” she said. “It changes your molec­u­lar struc­ture, your cel­lu­lar be­ing.”

CHARLES SYKES, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sh­eryl Crow’s lat­est al­bum is a re­turn to the core Sh­eryl Crow sound.

WARNER BROS.

“Be My­self” was re­leased April 21.

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