“This ain’t no disco, and it ain’t no country club either…!”
This proclamation, made on Sheryl Crow’s 1994 smash single “All I Wanna Do” was prophetic for the soon-to-be iconic artist. It described her sound perfectly, a honeyed aural treat pitched between roots rock grit and studio pop polish. This sound, beginning with her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club (1993), followed Crow through that record’s next two follow-ups, Sheryl Crow (1996) and The Globe Sessions (1998). This string of albums announced Crow as one of the leading voices in a new wave of women in the 1990s rewriting the singer-songwriter rulebook.
Crow’s initial burst of popularity was owed to the radio ready rock vibe she had all but made her own, but deeper exploration into Crow’s stated third LP The Globe Sessions hinted at a subtle, yet cinematic pop pulse underneath the guitar driven surface. It was apparent that Crow’s artistic animus couldn’t be confined to any one format.
That broader pop bravura took its first steps with C’mon, C’mon (2002), but bloomed on Crow’s lush and expansive fifth LP, Wildflower (2005). It was unfairly dismissed upon its release as “too slick” and met further indifference from a changing radio landscape. The three projects that followed Wildflower from 2008 to 2013 were tut tutted by critics as “return to form” vehicles or ignored entirely in spite of their own merits. It’s no secret that rock and roll purists can be fickle and anything that challenges their framework isn’t viewed as musically “honest enough.” Women in particular are burdened with that weight, more so than their male peers when they try to stretch themselves.
So where does that leave Crow’s ninth studio LP, Be Myself? The title, upon initial inspection, feels like an unnecessary mea culpa. But, when the listener dives into the material present on the record, it’s quickly noted that Be Myself isn’t an acquiescence to fossilized ideas about rock and Crow’s identity adhering to them. Instead, the album is an affirmation of the totality of Crow today as a woman and artist bridging the traditional and modern sides of the genre she loves.
Central to the successful conveyance of this is her voice; fuller in feel and sound, it easily pilots the infectious energy of the album’s lead-off single, “Halfway There.” The song is a curvy, funk number and Crow makes it an instant classic with a vocal read that is dually sweet and savory. For those well versed in Crow’s canon, the song’s sonic attire might bring to mind the groovier aspects of her 100 Miles From Memphis (2010) LP. Musically, as a whole, the record divides between classic rock flair and stylish pop sidesteps. Often, these two approaches are executed within the same song, as heard on “Long Way Back,” “Alone in the Dark,” and “Grow Up,” the undeniable highlights of the set.
Crow's collaboration with producer/musician Jeff Trott is key to Be Myself balancing its live instrumentation and tech burnish―Trott had worked with Crow previously and understood how to record her. So, on the dark political humor of “Heartbeat Away,” the lone guitar riff licking against the lyrics lets the music emphasize Crow's storytelling. But when the chorus cranks to drive home the emotionality of the track, it does so with a multi-tracked stacking of electric guitar fuzz, proof that studio science can complement versus crowd.
Be Myself is not about breaking new ground or coasting on past accomplishments. It’s about presenting Sheryl Crow as an individual comfortable in her own creative skin and willing to share in the truth of her journey.
Notable Tracks: “Alone in the Dark” | “Grow Up” | “Long Way Back”