Sheryl Crow: Be Myself

Sheryl Crow
Be Myself
(Warner Brothers)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Every day is a winding road, and no one knows that better than Sheryl Crow. After a few diversions into Memphis soul and modified country, along with personal upheavals both good (adopting two sons, beating cancer) and otherwise (what seems to be a recent nasty breakup), Crow is back to what she does best; cranking out melodic and emotionally vivid folk/pop/rock.

Her debut for Warner Brothers (Crow’s previous release was on Warner Country) is a generally gloomier set, at least lyrically. When on the opening track “Alone in the Dark” she sings, “Trust is something you can’t see/ But when it gets broken, it cuts so deep/ Hope you’re feeling super chic/ Since you made a joke out of me,” it’s clear she’s not hiding her pain from a busted relationship. Conversely those words are connected to a melody with an instantly hummable chorus that will remind any Crow fan of why they enjoyed her music in the past.

Despite more songs of pain and heartbreak such as “Halfway There” (“Let’s just agree to disagree/ we all know the rest), “Long Way Back” (“Sometimes you gotta face that light/ Get back in the ring, put on your gloves and fight”), and “Rest of Me” (I been let down/ I been dragged around so long”), Crow never forgets the significance of catchy melodies, many of which are far more cheerful than the stories she tells.  On the flip side, “Love Will Save the Day,” seemingly a hopeful idea with lyrics such as “With darkness on the left and right/ Believe me love will save the day,” is wrapped around one of the album’s most ominous tracks with creeping organ, heartbeat bass over a murky molasses tempo.

There’s even some politics in “A Heartbeat Away,” (“You bet the president is sweating/ While  Russia’s blowing up the phone”), a tough blues rocker and the disc’s hardest, and hardest hitting, track featuring a jagged, grinding guitar solo from Doyle Bramhall ll.

Crow has never been less than professional and consistently works with top quality musicians. Here she reconnects with producer Jeff Trott who also handles bass, keyboard and guitar duties. More importantly he and another old friend Tchad Blake (as mixer), craft a terrific balance between an upbeat approach and subject matter that is less than sunny.

Now in her mid-50s Crow doesn’t take kindly to the sexed up contemporary culture as she complains in the somewhat simplistic “Woo Woo” that “Every time I check my Twitter/ Somebody’s butt is in my face.” So it’s no surprise that Be Myself can be considered an old school Sheryl Crow album which, with the high quality of songs, singing and production, shows that the winding road has led her back home with a set of songs any existing fan will enjoy. It may not be her finest set, but it captures the light/dark spirit that informed Crow’s best music and is a worthy addition to an already impressive catalog.