Sheryl Crow by Alan Light
I think this is one of the most honest and on target assessment on Sheryl Crow and her music.
SPECTACLE REPORT: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH…
Sheryl Crow on Guitar Pull
by Alan Light
The four artists who join Elvis Costello this week for SPECTACLE’s second annual “guitar pull” are all extraordinary singers and exceptional songwriters. But with all due respect to Neko Case, Ron Sexsmith, and Jesse Winchester, only one of them has been able to strike the balance that Elvis describes as the ability to have “huge commercial successes, but put heart and soul and smarts in them as well.” This master of creative juggling is Sheryl Crow.
It has now been more than fifteen years since the former music teacher from Kennett, Missouri made the leap from background singer (most notably, as part of Michael Jackson’s touring band) to A-List frontperson with 1993’s Tuesday Night Music Club. That album, which was recently reissued in an expanded two-CD edition, sold over seven million copies and won Crow the first three of her long list of Grammy Awards—though, as she tells Elvis, the album’s breakthrough hit, “All I Wanna Do,” almost didn’t make the final cut.
In a way, her seemingly sudden success has caused some listeners to overlook the caliber and consistency of Crow’s music. “When I came out with ‘All I Wanna Do,’ a lot of people felt I was just some pop diva,” she told me last year. “Most people still think that.” Other artists, though, certainly appreciate her work; she has shared stages and studios with Kid Rock, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, and many more. “She has a wonderful ability to make words work, to phrase, to really build a song,” her friend and frequent collaborator Stevie Nicks once said.
Perhaps Crow’s greatest strength also sometimes presents an obstacle—her role as one of very few artists capable of bridging numerous musical worlds, from old-school rock snarl to contemporary hooks, from country to folk to radio-ready pop. Over the course of her six albums, sometimes this has even created a bit of confusion about her own musical identity (back in 2002, she told me that “I had gotten so far away from who I am that I didn’t know who I was writing for”), but it adds up to a career that long ago should have silenced all of her early skeptics.
“There are the older, real classic rock stars, and then the rest of us fall somewhere between that and the readymade pop stars,” she has said. “We’re really in some no-man’s land. We just have to wait, and I guess maybe we’ll get that respect when it’s time to retire.” For Sheryl Crow, that respect is long overdue.