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It's been over a quarter century since Sheryl Crow released Tuesday Night Music Club (1993), her wildly successful debut. The conceit of that album was Crow jamming with a bunch of musicians which eventually, and seemingly spontaneously, led to her inaugural LP coming to fruition. The reality was that her initial set of songs was mutually abandoned by Crow and her label, and Tuesday Night Music Club was completed as a conceptual correction. Crow, who began her career as a backup singer, astutely understood the music business and knew that a good story about the making of an album helps to make it viable.
Threads, Crow’s eleventh (and purportedly, final) studio record, embraces a duets concept designed, ostensibly, so that she can pay tribute to the artists who inspired her work, while spotlighting newer artists. It’s a fun, well-written album that also manages to strategically titillate.
The titillation begins with the presence of Eric Clapton on the album. Crow and Clapton dated and her song, "My Favorite Mistake," is rumored to be about that relationship. Here, they play it cool and collaborate on George Harrison's "Beware of Darkness," along with Sting and Brandi Carlile. They're faithful to the original and don't take it any place too different, but it's interesting to hear the song in Crow's beautiful, expansive voice, rather than with Harrison's shyer delivery.
Crow's collaboration with Chris Stapleton, "Tell Me When It's Over," is also intriguing, in that he sounds like a dead ringer for Clapton on his vocal performance. Even the song, written by Crow and Stapleton, has a late ‘80s Clapton adult contemporary vibe, with a groove that's almost danceable, but that holds back just a little too much. But mostly, it's just compelling to hear Crow interact with her ex-boyfriend's aural doppelgänger. They only thing missing, tabloid-wise, would be a loop of bike-riding in the background.
But Threads isn't a gimmick album. Crow's too good for that. Instead, she's created clever hooks, like performing with her ex-boyfriend, that also free her up to do her own things musically. The album, a generous seventeen songs, feels like mid ’90s radio and MTV, minus the grunge.
To people of a certain age, myself included, that's a good thing. For instance, "Wouldn't Want to Be Like You," featuring singer/guitarist St. Vincent, is a snake in a basket a la classic Britney Spears, lulling the listener before a chorus snaps out of the song’s wicker and into action. It's all Crow in terms of vocals, but it's not her typical songwriting. In fact, one has to wonder if it's left over from her scrapped debut. "Everything is Broken," with Jason Isbell, is cow-punk Bob Dylan while "For the Sake of Love," featuring Vince Gill, is a beautiful piano ballad. Crow covers it all stylistically.
Many of the tracks are weird, but they all work. The album features Chuck D., Stevie Nicks, and Joe Walsh, to name just a few of her additional guests, and somehow doesn’t feel overcrowded, unlike an Avengers movie which has about the same number of contributors. The individual songs and performances on Threads all fit together like a tapestry.
Crow's previous life as a background singer taught her how to bring out the best in others and that's the case here. You can hear Crow's voice, literally and figuratively, but you also hear her many collaborators. She's created a fascinating story you're going to want to explore.
Notable Tracks: "Beware of Darkness" | “Prove You Wrong” | "Story of Everything" | “Tell Me When It’s Over”