Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow

A & M Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


As a diva, Sheryl Crow carries somewhat of a curse. It's her lack of an act or a trait that makes her more at home with your average American. She doesn't use a piano and rail against the strick religious upbringing of her father (a la Tori Amos), she isn't a pissed-off confessionalist who would inspire college freshwomen to dump their loser boyfriends (Alanis Morissette) and she's had too many breaks in show-biz to compete with the tatooed, spiked hair indie-folk vet Ani DiFranco.

Still, after playing backup singer to Michael Jackson's huge touring ensemble in the late 1980s, it's amazing that Crow sounds this down to earth. Much darker than her Tuesday Night Music Club, Sheryl Crow set off to prove that she was more than a one-hit wonder. She set out to prove that by making an album that would scare people away from the guitar-playing waif who just wanted to "Have some fun." She also raked in some crediability points, albeit unintentionally when Wal-Mart pulled her album off the racks when she sang, "Watch our children kill each other / With the gun they bought at Wal-Mart discount stores."

To those people who cannot buy her album there, use the Internet or go into a town with a population larger than 1,700 and pick up Sheryl Crow. If big themes escape Crow, she hits the smaller ones perfectly. "Home" sounds like a warm ballad and even the video is a tad deceiving as Crow attends a reunion of some sorts in a small town. The lyrics though shed another story, telling a tale of a woman who lives in a "house full of lies," who resorts to fulfilling her needs through romance novels and dreaming of being swept away by a stranger.

The off-beat lead-in tells you immediately who this album will appeal to. People who are responsible enough to have a job but are just quirky enough to religously watch my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The X-Files and who have enough common sense to know the meaning of alienation and abandonment: the perfect recipe for the blues.

And Crow certainly can play them, not on a Raitt level of course, but can still play them with a vigor. On "If It Makes You Happy" and "Hard To Make A Stand," a dirty guitar riff is established, complimenting Crow's gritty swagger. The only time the music falters is when Crow's lyrics falter as well. "Superstar" is a bit too cheesy, even if it is supposed to be ironic and "Oh Marie" is a ballad that could have worked, but it's too sentimental given the awesome lyrical work she puts forth on Sheryl Crow.

If there is one universal element that ties the songs together in Sheryl Crow, it is change. In all of the songs, not one person studied is content with their current surroundings. "A Change" speaks for itself. In "Maybe Angels," the character already has their bags packed, hoping to get swept up by aliens. In "Sweet Rosalyn," Crow drives the chorus by saying, "Sometimes you gotta give in."

But the most effective part of Sheryl Crow is the closing two songs. Unfortunately, too many albums released today start off great but level off at the last quarter of the album. That's far from the case with "The Book" and "Ordinary Morning." In "The Book," a lonely acoustic guitar plays before a jazzy, somewhat distorted electric guitar leads in. The song tells the story of a man who took three vivid days in the character's life, and exploited them by putting it on paper for everyone to see. Crow's delivery hits so close to the bone, it's hard to imagine the song is not autobiographical.

On the amazing closer "Ordinary Morning," Crow sings over a wickedly obtuse jazzy interlude. Her sultry voice makes her out to be a Bond girl (she would later do a song for Tomorrow Never Dies, a Bond flick). But her sexy voice tells the story of an all too ordinary situation: someone who is alone and cannot dig out of the drudgery of their life. The chorus says it all as Crow sings with full-throated defiance and disgust, "Oh, it's just an ordinary morning / it's just an ordinary day / and I'm just an ordinary woman / slipping away."

Crow may not be able to match the metaphor queens (Tori Amos and Liz Phair) but on Sheryl Crow, she doesn't need wordplay. While indie critics may blast her, when she sings, "The walls have been talking / about me again," she makes it sound like it could have come straight out of Nick Cave's journal.

Sheryl Crow is a definite mood album. And for an artist who may be riding the current musical trend wave, this album was a big risk that paid off. Indeed, nearly every word that Crow sings on the album, you feel it. I vowed that I would never buy a Sheryl Crow album after "Leaving Las Vegas" and "All I Wanna Do" saturated the airwaves. Luckily, however, I was sucked in by the irresistable hook of "A Change." The rest of the album is just as good. By no means is this woman ordinary. With Sheryl Crow, the sophomore slump syndrone is all but vanquished.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B



© 1998 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of A & M Records, and is used for informational purposes only.