Warner Music Nashville (2013)

Surprise, surprise. Roots-rocker Sheryl Crow has been maintaining an ongoing flirtation with the country scene for years—you know, hanging out in Nashville, showing up on country music awards shows, collaborating with country stars, etc., etc. So when it came out that her latest effort Feels Like Home would be decidedly a country album, the collective reaction was less shock-and-awe and more “it’s about damn time.”

The thing is, between the evolution of modern country to include more rock sensibilities and Crow’s own natural rootsy vibe, this was barely a stretch for her. In fact, I’d say about 70 percent of this material could have easily appeared on Crow’s earlier, non-country releases with hardly any tweaking. The first thing I noticed on the catchy opening track “Shotgun” (destined to be a hit) and the follow-up “Easy” (already a Top-20 hit) is Crow’s signature lightly effected electric guitar strum, so typical of her southern-rock style. Likewise, while “We Oughta Be Drinkin’” certainly carries a bit more twang, the fun-loving attitude and easy rhythmic clip are remarkably reminiscent to “All I Wanna Do.” In that regard, the album really does feel like something of a homecoming. In other words, Sheryl Crow isn’t trying to be country (like, say, Lionel Richie); she is country. Feels Like Home simply admits what was already true.

Having established that fact, Crow does manage to dive in head-first at times—almost as if to say, “Okay, so I’m country—now where can I go with that?” The question is answered with a few sentimental ventures into traditional country, female-diva style. “Homesick” could easily have been recorded by Faith Hill or Martina McBride, while the retro-sounding tear-jerker “Waterproof Mascara,” a song about single motherhood, brings back memories of classic Tammy Wynette. Speaking of motherhood, also in typical country fashion, parenthood is a time-of-life theme that Crow openly embraces in her songs, with the sentimental closer “Stay At Home Mother” resting comfortably on the same track list with sexier, sassier tunes like “Easy” and “Nobody’s Business.” And it’s worth mentioning here that throughout the record, her vocals have never been better.

Sheryl Crow is a versatile enough artist that it would be a mistake to pigeonhole her into a single style—and that includes country. There’s nothing on this album to suggest that Crow will be making records like this one from now on. But it is safe to say that the transition into country feels very much like a seamless one for Crow, and that for production value, songwriting and overall quality, Feels Like Home stands toe-to-toe with the likes of C’Mon, C’Mon and Sheryl Crow. This style might feel like home to Crow, but for us, the listeners, it feels like she’s come home, as well.

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