100 Miles From Memphis

Sheryl Crow

A & M Records, 2010

http://www.sherylcrow.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/29/2010

One of the more often overlooked elements of Sheryl Crow’s 1993 debut Tuesday Night Music Club was her affection for classic soul and rhythm & blues grooves.  It’s no coincidence that one of her breakthrough gigs was singing backup for Michael Jackson; she has always been a student of the Motown sound, and her music has frequently been very much about groove.  On 100 Miles From Memphis she goes back to the source material and adapts the sound for her own, delivering an album of (mostly) originals that sound like they could have been composed under Berry Gordy’s watchful eye circa 1969.

The highlights are front-loaded here and include the driving, dead-on Motown homage “Our Love Is Fading” (complete with snappy guitar licks, soaring vocals, and sassy horn section), the shimmering light funk of Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name,” and the dense, layered-vocals-clavinet-and-blues-harp-featuring “Say What You Want.”  Crow also dips into reggae-fied soul in “Eye To Eye” (featuring guest guitar by notorious Caribbean nomad Keith Richards), leads with the “na-nas” again on the strings-and-horns confection “Summer Day,” and lifts you up on the shoulders of the sunny “Peaceful Feeling.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Let’s dance in the summer breeze / I wanna dance ‘til my spirit’s free” sings Crow in the latter track, and that one line captures what this album is all about—letting go and having fun with the music.  Crow has made some terrific albums and cut some terrific songs, but there hasn’t been that much of it that’s been fun; an awful lot of it has been very serious in one respect or another.  And while there are definitely songs here about the mysteries of love, there is precious little angst. The dominant mood on 100 Miles From Memphis is upbeat and frothy and a breath of fresh air.

The one oddity about this album is the way Crow dissipates the great head of steam achieved in the first seven tracks by throwing down back to back ballads in “Stop” and “Sideways,” even if the latter is more of a sultry slow jam duet courtesy of composer / guest vocalist Citizen Cope.  The title track picks the tempo up again, its lilting verses  and soulful arrangement providing additional connective tissue between yesterday and today. 

Closing things out, “Roses And Moonlight” features a slinky groove with a deep, spacious “Low Rider” feel before Crow comes in on top as breathy and sultry and Diana Ross-ish as she is capable of being. “Turn up the heat, my body’s on fire / Come on and teach me the ways of desire” …umm, what was the subject again? Bonus track “I Want You Back” goes straight for this album’s source material and delivers a delicious cover brimming with joy, and dedicated “for Michael with love.”

The latter cut and the D’Arby and Cope tracks notwithstanding, I love the fact that Crow chose not to make this a covers album. By working with co-producers/co-writers Doyle Bramhall II (Eric Clapton, B.B.King, Derek Trucks, and Crow’s 2002 album C’mon C’mon) and Justin Stanley (The Vines, Nikki Costa) to craft an album of mostly originals, Crow was able to make music that is genuine and true to herself within a deeply familiar late 60s / early 70s soul / r&b framework. 100 Miles From Memphis is all groove and enthusiasm, and tons of fun.

Rating: B+

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