Be Myself

Sheryl Crow

Warner Brothers, 2017

http://www.sherylcrow.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/23/2017

They say you can’t go home again—and yet there’s a ridiculous amount of evidence to the contrary, up to and including Sheryl Crow’s newest, the cannily-titled Be Myself.

Crow’s path since 2002’s well-received C’mon C’mon—the third record in a row she had made largely in creative partnership with songwriter/guitarist/producer Jeff Trott—has often felt like a series of detours, a reality she even acknowledged with an album by the same name. First came the quiet, introspective Wildflower (2005), then the wonky, bipolar Detours (2008), then the classic-soul immersion 100 Miles From Memphis (2010) and finally a somewhat half-hearted stab at country in 2013’s Feels Like Home.

Be Myself finds Crow returning home to her quirky lo-fi rock roots, reuniting with Trott and also bringing back their old compadre Tchad Blake from Sheryl Crow and Globe Sessions days to co-engineer and mix, adding his usual stable of oddball textures, percussion and loops deep in the groove. Thankfully, the set of songs that results is far from nostalgic; if anything, these songs work hard to be of the moment, referencing Twitter and juice bars, selfies and technology addictions.

The other factor that elevates this reunion above a nostalgia wallow is that Crow incorporates lessons learned in the intervening years—soulful horn accents, chiming acoustic guitars, and abundant moments where she makes it clear she’s just, well, being herself and feeling comfortable inside her own skin.

Be Myself is also sequenced well, with most of the strongest material front-loaded. Opener “Alone In The Dark” offers a warm, friendly reintroduction to the Crow/Trott/Blake aesthetic—laid-back, rootsy guitar, wonky percussion and a nice chorus build—while modernizing the subject matter with a lyric about an ex who shared some things on the internet that he shouldn’t have. First single “Halfway There” is a highlight, big, greasy, r&b-inflected guitars under a sing-songy lyric that finds Crow urging her other half to agree to disagree and try to meet her in the middle, leaving it intentionally vague whether their divide is more romantic or political in nature. The tambourine hits, horn accents and little bell-like synth notes give a full, rich treatment to a playful song with a serious message, lit up midway by a searing solo from guest guitar-slinger Gary Clark Jr.

“Long Way Back” and the subsequent title track can be a bit on-the-nose lyrically at times (“It’s a long way back home”… “If I can’t be someone else / I might as well be myself”), but are nonetheless full of Crow charm and fire. “Long Way Back” unfolds as a steady midtempo number about resilience with something crunchy in the rhythm section, guitars asserting themselves, then falling back. “Be Myself” is a frisky number whose lo-fi vibe, multiplicity of guitar tones, dime-store Wurlitzer and sassy hipster lyric hark all the way back to Tuesday Night Music Club. The lilting classic-soul bridge and closing-chorus fuzz guitar feel like the twin cherries on top of a song that really does feels like coming home.

“Roller Skate” feels like more throwback fun at first, a bouncy, playful light funk number with darker undertones about being lonely inside a relationship in the Internet Age: “Put your phone away / Let’s roller skate.” “Love Will Save The Day” is an interesting turn, a somber, dreamy, often compelling ballad about rebounding from post-election-trauma (“This is the same world the lovely world is used to be / Hard to believe, when you see what they show you on TV… Change can come if you make it”).

The album trails off somewhat in the second half, though there are still moments to enjoy. “Strangers Again” might feel a bit generic, but “Rest Of Me” features lively country-inflected twin acoustic guitars and a lilting earworm of a chorus anchored by, of all things, upright piano. “Heartbeat Away” veers to the heavy end of things, a dark blues-rocker full of apocalyptic visions of corruption and moral degeneracy (and a probably unnecessary reference to “”the man with the red face / With his finger on the button”… it was already clear what the song was about). At the close, “Grow Up” and “Woo Woo” try maybe a little too hard to lighten things up, each featuring rather plodding verses that build to catchy, poppy choruses, though neither feels quite fully formed.

Be Myself doesn’t have the sustained buoyancy or drive of C’mon C’mon, but why would it? We’re 15 years down the road and the world is in a darker place (“Anger makes the world go ‘round / That’s the way it is right now”). And there’s definite appeal in hearing songs that feel a little more serious and studied that are nonetheless dressed up in that familiar Crow/Trott/Blake vibe. Be Myself is Crow, in fact, being herself circa 2017: unsettled but determined, carrying years more experience into a familiar setting that gives these songs a burnished resilience that suits them, and her, very well indeed.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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