I started today by tapping into the music of another 1990s superstar, Sheryl Crow. I should have noted her when mentioning the other mega-acts of the ‘90s who made it really big with their debut album, and when I saw her name come up on the list, my first assumption was that the album would be “Tuesday Night Music Club”, which actually came out in 1993 and featured mega-hits like “All I Wanna Do”. Upon a closer look, I realized this was the follow-up album, her self-titled second album that was released in 1996. This one made my list as it is album #475 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time. Much as I did with the two major hit albums for Bonnie Raitt, I decided to listen to “Tuesday Night Music Club” first, as a prelude to “Sheryl Crow”. I’m glad I did that for two reasons. One, it was good to hear many of the songs we all came to know from that first album. And second, in agreement with Rolling Stone (this time), I realized today’s album is even better.
Unlike her first album, Crow took much more individual ownership on this album, with the production, songwriting, and performing, as she played almost all of the instruments here. And that is an impressive feat, because this is a really good rock and roll album. It still has plenty of hooks and pop-laden flavor, but it is a much more guitar-centric and edgier sound, all of which I enjoyed immensely.
The album opens with a song I didn’t know, but it became an instant favorite, “Maybe Angels”. The soulful blend of organ and guitar create a funky groove that sets the stage for the record. Next comes what proved to be my favorite on a good album, a song most of you will recognize, “A Change Will Do You Good”. I recall when I first heard this song many years ago, I realized there was even more to Sheryl Crow than I previously imagined. The production and the funk-rock groove really carry this song, along with some entertaining visuals in the lyrics.
“Home” adds a nice contrast with its mellow acoustic vibe, and reminds me of an all-time favorite, The Sundays. The pace quickens with another funk-pop-rock track on “Sweet Rosalyn”. Referencing Royal Street, this makes further sense when I learned she recorded this album in New Orleans.
“If It Makes You Happy” is another great lyrical product, with a sad and driving melody. Crow garnered a lot of praise for her stronger vocals and honest songwriting on this album, and this is a great example here. “Redemption Day” takes us back to the acoustics, this time reminding me of Toad and the Wet Sprocket or R.E.M. “Hard to Make A Stand” is a solid story-teller, and next comes her other big hit from this record “Everyday Is A Winding Road”. This has never been major favorite of mine, even though I think it is a really well-written song, if that makes sense. For some reason, I have never loved the chorus, which is particularly odd now that I learned the harmony vocals on this song come from Neil Finn of Crowded House. Next comes “The Book”, which is an acoustic ballad that almost sounds as if it was recorded in front of the Preservation Hall Dixieland Jazz Band as they are warming up before the show. The horns provide an eerie yet effective backing for this track.
The last three songs are enjoyable if not spectacular, and I will acknowledge I was holding out hope I would hear “Steve McQueen” or “Soak Up The Sun”, which actually didn’t release until 2002. “Steve McQueen” is my all-time favorite Sheryl Crow tune; it is just a great rock song referencing a true rock star masquerading as an actor.
I was lucky enough to finally see Sheryl Crow in concert a few years ago, opening an outdoor show for Robert Plant in Maryland. Her catalog of music is outstanding, and she is a great performer, in the studio and on stage. She has come a long, long way from her early days as a backup singer for Michael Jackson on his “Bad” tour in the late 1980s, and her career is one any performer could be proud of.