- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sheryl Crow

Detours

A&M; Records

Singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow has drawn upon the events of a busy few years to produce her most personal album to date — and one of her finest. She made news by surviving a bout with breast cancer, adopting a child, ending her romance with cycling champion Lance Armstrong, and she even found her name in bold type after buttonholing Karl Rove at last year’s White House Correspondents Dinner.

Readers of this newspaper may be disappointed to learn that this last indignity did not provide Miss Crow with fodder enough for a song, although she aims several barbs, oblique and not, at Mr. Rove’s erstwhile boss. But Miss Crow gives voice to the rest of it, in a musically exuberant melange of songs that range in styles from anti-folk primitive to ethereal indie pop to 1970s-inspired jam-band rock.

Miss Crow is reunited here with producer Bill Bottrell, who mixed her debut album, “Tuesday Night Music Club,” which included the singer’s highest-charting singles to date: “All I Wanna Do” and “Strong Enough.”

Even the casual fan will hear echoes of “All I Wanna Do” in the track “Peace Be Upon Us.” It mashes up a vaguely North African jazz sound achieved with a marimba intro, laid over a steady rhythm of hand-clapping and the beat of a darbuka. To drive the point home, the pacifist ode features a duet with singer Ahmed Al Hirmi, who offers a few verses in Arabic. “Love Is Free,” a two-step strummed out with ukulele-style strokes on an acoustic guitar, is more joyful in its tone than in its topic — the wretched wastes of post-Katrina New Orleans.

It’s past the point of cliche to slag pop stars for reductive or utopian political views. That said, it’s fortunate that “Gasoline,” the “Exile on Main Street”-inspired track, is as good as it is. At just over five minutes, it clocks in as the album’s longest song — and it’s most politically ambitious. It tells the story of a Boston Tea Party-like gasoline riot in 2017 London, told from the point of view of a post-revolutionary troubadour. A bit silly, I know, but boy does it rock with an unstoppable grindhouse guitar riff that, once heard, is hard to shake.

Miss Crow recalls her failed engagement with Mr. Armstrong in halting tones on the wrenching “Diamond Ring.” She imagines her own death on the haunting, acoustic track “Make It Go Away.” She sings, “I stare into some great abyss/ I calculate the things I’d miss/If only I could make some sense of this.” The title track ties all these personal themes together and packages them within shimmering, auto-tuned four-part harmonies that are the most gorgeous thing on the record.

Of all the tracks, though, “Motivation” is the one worth a close listen. It’s a sharp-edged generational satire, skewering the kind of pop-music fans who mentally elide the political content of the music they dance and party to — a type no doubt well-known to Miss Crow. On this one track at least, the “little white girl in the shiny black bra” and the “skinny young dude in the hundred dollar T-shirt” would do well to prick up their ears and listen to what Miss Crow is telling them.

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