The common thread with veteran/aging rock stars is that once the hits dry up, they have four choices if they want to stay in the game: make a Christmas album, make a standards album, make a country album, collaborate with an up-and-coming rapper or some variation of all four. Sheryl Crow is a gifted songwriter and performer – no question. There is a reason she has stuck around for so long. Her first four albums were killer, especially her masterpiece Sheryl Crow. However, her career has cooled a bit over the last ten years. Her last two records were good in their own rights, but sounded as if she was having an identity crisis. 2008’s Detours was an attempt to recapture the magic of Crow’s first record and 2010’s 100 Miles From Memphis was an exploratory Stax-style soul album.
Twenty years after her debut, Crow, now fifty-one, has just released Feels Like Home, her first country album. For the most part, it works for her and might just be the boost her career needs. While not eclipsing anything pre-C’mon C’mon, it is an enjoyable enough disc and sounds like Sheryl is halfway still in her pop-rock territory and halfway testing the country terrain. Feels Like Home opens with the song “Shotgun”, one of those party-starting modern country road songs about driving her truck. The single “Easy” does not sound overwhelmingly country and should not be too much of a culture shock to her listeners. However, songs like “We Oughta Be Drinkin’” definitely feel like Crow has “dumbed things down” a bit in order to reach a wider audience, especially when you remember this is the woman who once wrote powerful socially conscious songs like “Love Is A Good Thing” which caused her record to be banned at Walmart. You could have argued similarly with Bob Dylan when he made Nashville Skyline in 1969, but those were different times. In her defense, she does briefly mention the United States’ trade deficit in “Best of Times”, but that’s about it. “Homecoming Queen” and “Waterproof Mascara” are reminiscent of some of the sappy country ballads Elvis covered in the early seventies while he was sweating it out in front of housewives in Vegas. Yet, Crow redeems herself on the ballad “Callin’ Me When I’m Lonely”. It is a full-on slow country affair and she pulls it off. “Crazy Ain’t Original” is another highlight, as is the bouncy half-country-half-Fleetwood-Mac “Nobody’s Business”.
The key to enjoying Feels Like Home is to not overthink it. It is not Crow’s most profound work, but in terms of the pop-country genre, it’s pretty good. After surviving over twenty years in the music business plus cancer and Lance Armstrong, Sheryl Crow has saved up enough integrity, earning her the right to explore new territory and hopefully “have some fun”:)
Essential tracks: “Nobody’s Business”, “Callin’ Me When I’m Lonely” and “Crazy Ain’t Original”.