I wish women singer-songwriters let themselves be fast, funny, and funky more often, and that might explain why Sheryl Crow makes me wince less than any other female folkie out there right now. She’s upscale, up-to-date, and down-to-earth, she’s got a headful of ideas driving her insane, and her sense of rhythm is as underappreciated as her sense of humor. She talks her lyrics as propulsively as she sings them, and the handclaps and boom-baps of her organic-and-synthetic rhythm section do not let her down. ”This ain’t no disco,” she admitted in her biggest hit ”All I Wanna Do,” but she’s still one of the most dance-musicinfluenced chirpers ever. She used to provide studio and songwriting assistance to Michael Jackson and Lisa Lisa, as well as AOR and c&w stars, and her big ballad ”Strong Enough” even inspired a Keta-Men club remake where they asked if I was hard, long, and strong enough to be their man.
The two danciest songs on her new The Globe Sessions are also its two least introverted, augmenting party chatter, sax solos, forward-rolling rhythm guitar, and mechanical click-tracks with commentary about rich white night people: ice-addicted Uncle Larry hitting on ladies in his Members Only jacket, for instance, and some photo-spread chick showering in her panties. But the lowlife that Crow mostly paints caricatures of on Globe, for a change, is herself–lots of sad breakup ballads sung in the first person. Perhaps in honor of all these lovelorn laments about being second-hand news, her rhythm section turns tracks six through eight into a Rumours tribute.
She wants the songs to capture monogamy’s misery the way Fleetwood Mac did, the way Marvin Gaye did–at CD’s start you press play and immediately hear ”I Heard It Through the Grapevine” through the bassline and spurned falsettos of the radio single ”My Favorite Mistake,” where Sheryl’s alone at six in the morning and the grapevine’s a phoneline and it’s a thin line between love and hate. In ”Am I Getting Through,” over ominously hollow drum-tension from Mac’s ”The Chain,” the guitar-and-vocal melody resurrects the midsection of ”Stairway to Heaven” while little violins itch out; the song’s ”Part 2” is a loud, fuzzy, minute-long quickie that’s the funniest faux-punker about Mazeratis since either Ted Nugent’s ”Wango Tango” or Joe Walsh’s ”Life’s Been Good.”
Joe, you’ll remember, had an office with gold records on his wall; just leave a message, maybe he’ll call. Sheryl’s outgoing voice mail says ”Hello it’s me, I’m not at home, if you’d like to reach me, leave me alone,” but she’s got gold records, too. 1996’s Sheryl Crow had more medicated Exile on Main Street blues fog than Exile in Guyville ever did, and its three hit singles were eccentric mile-a-minute streams of consciousness to be reckoned with. Every-which-way-but-loose scatter-logic comes easy in the age of Beck, though, so I don’t hear The Globe Sessions‘s more reigned-in embrace of direct emotion as an aesthetic retreat.
Crow’s become a magician of end-of-verse vocal key changes, and now and then her belting flashes me back to late ’60s white women like Merilee Rush and Bobbie Gentry. Sheryl never liked punk, she says, because it never seemed soulful enough. Despite hailing originally from a small Missouri town just outside Memphis (and attending the University of Missouri at the exact same time as me!) and thereby being allowed to impress adult-alternative program directors with corny claptrap about ”roots,” she’s never come off remotely stodgy. She still gets stoned, she’s not the kind of girl you take home, and she wears really colorful tank tops.
The only time Globe rotes itself into anal-compulsive Americana quaintness is the Dylan outtake ”Mississippi,” where Crow conserves energy in apparent homage to Time Out of Mind‘s lethargy. And the only time the set feels pretentious is ”Crash & Burn,” an interminably atmospheric art-whisper that would’ve ended the album on an absolutely snoozeful note if not for an untitled talking blues tacked on afterward alluding to ”Ball of Confusion,” ”Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” and presidential impeachment. That’s our real Sheryl: bouncing her mental dysfunction coast to coast, listening to Coltrane and derailing her own train and sifting through thrift-store jungles in search of names to drop. Performing Feng Shui on her wallpaper and hall carpet to purge some creep from her memory, letting a drawled melody worthy of Rapmaster Tom Petty build to a rampaging raveup while she considers seducing the electric-meter man. If only she’d wear her fake fur on the outside as well as the inside, if only her videos glammed as much like Marilyn Manson as her photo does inside Sheryl Crow‘s foldout sleeve, she’d have all the bases covered.