Sheryl Crow

Valory Music / Universal, 2019

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Sheryl Crow says Threads is her last album. And maybe it will be, but I had to smile at what a good argument this collection ends up being for not following through with that plan.

Crow’s reasons for no longer putting out new music are sad but logical. With the advent of a streaming model that enriches corporate executives while paying out pennies to the artists who created the work, there’s no financial incentive for someone like Crow to produce new music. At this stage in her career she doesn’t need “exposure,” thank you very much (as if that’s ever paid the rent).

For her grand finale in the studio, then, Crow set out to work with as many artists as she could who have influenced her, or supported her, or just shared a moment with her along her path. The resulting list of guest performers on this 17-track collection is staggering, but in the end what makes this album work isn’t the star power, but the way the songs and performances work together to offer a broad overview of the musical life and times of Crow herself, a performer who started out idolizing classic rock artists in the ’70s, served as background vocalist for a pair of superstars in the ’80s (Michael Jackson and Don Henley), and then launched a solo career in the ’90s that saw her explore rock, country, soul, folk and a wide range of collaborations through the years.

The opening sequence establishes quickly that this album is more than a self-indulgent stunt. First the rock anthem “Prove You Wrong” with Stevie Nicks and Maren Morris gives way to the bluesy grind of “Live Wire” with Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples. Then we move into the fiery, sharp-eyed r&b of “Tell Me When It’s Over,” one of two co-writes here between Crow and outlaw country artist Chris Stapleton, who lends his inimitable growly vocals. And then Chuck D, Audra Day and Gary Clark Jr. light up the political rap-rock anthem “Story Of Everything,” a hard-hitting Crow original that’s very much of these times.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

From there it’s a like an all-star game of music. Crow’s cover of George Harrison’s “Beware Of Darkness” features the guitarist from the original 1970 studio recording, Mr. Eric Clapton, along with Sting and Brandi Carlile. The classic rock revival continues with “Cross Creek Road,” a big, winding, echo-drenched original featuring Lukas Nelson and Neil Young. Jason Isbell joins Crow to cover Bob Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken” in high style, and then you’re into duets with Keith Richards (on the Stones’ “The Worst”), Willie Nelson (on the memorable Crow original “Lonely Alone”) and Kris Kristofferson (on his “Border Lord”).

Later on, highlights include a spirited late-night rave-up with Joe Walsh (their original co-write “Still The Good Old Days”), a counterintuitive but startingly successful duet with St. Vincent, and totally intuitive pairings with Emmylou Harris and James Taylor. In every case Crow and producer Steve Jordan play to their guests’ strengths, arranging the songs to maximize the impact of the pairings.

One of the most moving moments occurs earlier on when Crow duets with the late Johnny Cash on her own “Redemption Day.” A few weeks before his death Cash recorded a demo of the song, a powerful, moving condemnation of war, reimagined and rebuilt by Crow and Jordan around Cash’s haunting, vulnerable vocal. Despite the temporal distance between Cash’s performance and the rest of the track, it feels seamless, like a moment that could have been captured live in the studio the day before yesterday.

And then there’s the punchline to the entire project. The process of assembling this “grand finale” feels like it has revitalized Crow, who delivers strong new material and passionate performances throughout. Sealing the deal for this music buyer is Crow’s pull-out-the-stops approach to packaging the CD version of the album, featuring detailed liner notes including lyrics, credits, and short essays penned by Crow describing the origins and backstory of each and every song. It’s exactly the kind of unique, engaging bonus material that adds enough value to convince fans to purchase physical releases.

If this turns out to be Crow’s last album, then she certainly went out on a high note. And if it doesn’t, part of the reason may be that she’s adapted to her circumstances and chosen the most effective strategy for convincing fans to actually pay for their music: offer them a high-value physical package that they can’t get any other way.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2020 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Valory Music / Universal, and is used for informational purposes only.