CDs from Asleep at the Wheel, fea­tur­ing Leon Rausch, and Sh­eryl Crow

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE & ARTS -

‘100 Miles From Mem­phis’ (A&M) Grade: C+

If the ti­tle didn’t tip you off, then the erup­tion of horns and the per­va­sive back­ground vo­cal­ists on open­ing track “Our Love Is Fad­ing” ought to do it: “100 Miles From Mem­phis” is Sh­eryl Crow’s soul record. From the un­likely cover of Ter­ence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name” — with a nod to con­tem­po­rary R&B in the form of a Justin Tim­ber­lake guest ap­pear­ance — to the al­bum’s bonus cover of the Jack­son 5’s “I Want You Back,” “100 Miles to Mem­phis” packs in all the flour­ishes you’d ex­pect from an old-school soul record.

Aside from a pair of lateal­bum bal­lads — the dull “Stop” and the rea­son­ably an­i­mated Cit­i­zen Cope cover “Side­ways” — it’s Crow in max­i­mum Mavis Sta­ples mode. She belts it out over sax­o­phones, strings, gospel voices, blast­ing trum­pets — in­clud­ing, on “Peace­ful Feel­ing” from long­time Austin player Ephraim Owens — and a lot of B3 or­gan.

That’s a log­i­cal devel­op­ment for Crow, who’s worked with Tina Turner, served as a back­ing vo­cal­ist for Michael Jack­son and grew up in Mis­souri, within spit­ting dis­tance of the cen­ter of south­ern soul. And she’s en­listed the right play­ers on “100 Miles From Mem­phis,” in­clud­ing cowrit­ers and pro­duc­ers Justin Stan­ley and Doyle Bramhall II, who also go to bat as gui­tarists, per­cus­sion­ists and vo­cal­ists. Even Keith Richards pops by to jam on “Eye to Eye.”

But while “100 Miles From Mem­phis” is al­ways cleanly pro­duced and ably per­formed, it lacks the sparkle and en­ergy of a qual­ity soul record, al­ways feel­ing too cau­tious and san­i­tized by half. The nearly con­stant fe­male back­ing vo­cals sound like they were ex­cerpted from Eric Clap­ton at the low­est point of his 1990s adult-con­tem­po­rary dol­drums. And all the rock-solid in­stru­men­ta­tion and pro­duc­tion in the world can’t make Crow into the kind of throaty crooner the ma­te­rial re­quires — a short­fall never more pro­nounced than on her cover of “I Want You Back,” one of the finest pop songs ever writ­ten and con­se­quently a dif­fi­cult num­ber to bring any­thing new to. Crow’s sugar-sweet voice as­pires to reach the howl of soul’s great­est fe­male singers but never quite gets there. — Pa­trick Cald­well Sh­eryl Crow per­forms at the Back­yard on Aug. 28.

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