Sheryl Crow – Detours
IT’S HARD NOT to have a soft spot for the faux-rocker that gave you your summer hit list (Soak Up the Sun), your post-high school graduation road trip mix (Everyday is a Winding Road, All I Wanna Do) and more than your fair share of lying in bed, broken-hearted balladry (Anything But Down, My Favorite Mistake).
Prolific and remarkably successful for someone who has made a career out of doing more or less the same thing repeatedly, Crow, in her career spanning fifteen years (a lifetime for most musicians of her persuasion), has never experimented or strayed from the most traditional of song structures. If you’ve heard one Sheryl Crow album, you’ve virtually heard them all; affirming, “gee whiz, isn’t life great” catchy melodies, thrown in with a handful of heart-wrenching, love-gone-wrong ballads, mix, stir, and serve. Still, her companionable alto, mastery of lyrical narrative, and easy-going, affable manner have made her a staple of the American pop rock scene.
Her sixth studio album, Detours, however, possesses a maturity and integrity lacking in her past work. Her previous full-length release, Wildflower (2005) seemingly marked for the 45-year old singer, her entrance into an autumnal stage.
Detours continues this mellow strain, but whereas Wildflower at times felt unrelentingly and oppressively dour, her new record is a much more balanced effort. The album was produced by Bill Bottrell, who also produced her 1993 multiplatinum debut Tuesday Night Music Club and perhaps consequently, Detours also displays a sonic variety we haven’t seen from Crow since.
Here her trademark balladry takes a backseat to songs of a more spiritual strain. God Bless this Mess, a stripped-down acoustic track sung to a hymnal hush opens the album. Even songs that do not deal directly with religion have an element of piousness. On the boot-kicking chorus of Out of our Heads she urges: “Children of Abraham, lay down your fears, swallow your tears…” accompanied by schoolyard chants and a plucky banjo that could make even the most indolent of us get up and jive.
We also see her poetics fan outwards as she abandons her characteristic interiority to connect the personal with the political in a way that manages to bypass triteness and display a refreshing committment to her personal ideals. Shine Over Babylon, the album’s lush and unabashedly countrified gem, offers a ray of hope to a world in disarray, whilst the eco-friendly, Gasoline, groovy with summer hit single potentiality, pointedly calls out, “the bastards over in Washington afraid of popping that greed vein”.
Crow, has not had the easiest time of it these past few years, thus it is when she mines her own depths that the record experiences its heaviest moments. Diamond Ring is inspired by the end of her engagement with cyclist Lance Armstrong; Make it Go Away (Radiation Song), by her public fight with breast cancer (“I crawl into my circumstance/Lay on the table begging for another chance”). Crow has always had a talent for laconic yet piercing expressions of pain that forgo the melodrama some of her contemporeries specialize in. The title track, a tribute to her mother, offers up more of that heart-splitting lyricism we’ve come to associate with Crow (“It took all of these detours to find love/Mother, teach me to love with a paper-thin heart”).
Although each track occupies it’s own musical space, Detours is held together by the gently reoccurring theme of faith in the human spirit and our capacity for resilience. The result is a surprisingly powerful and emotionally resonant album.