Considering everything Sheryl Crow has been through the past few years--a battle with breast cancer, her tabloid-chronicled breakup with Lance Armstrong, her high-profile roles as a foot soldier for Barack Obama and as an adoptive mother--it's no surprise the 48-year-old songstress has done some soul-searching.
What's remarkable is the soul she found. It's the musical variety, the kind that echoes in the catalogs of Motown greats and Stax Records, and it's the territory Crow mined for her new album 100 Miles From Memphis.
On Friday night at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, the only thing standing between Crow and a makeover as an R&B diva was motherhood.
"My little boy got the flu this week, and I got it too. But I'm here," the former Michael Jackson backup singer told the audience, sipping something ostensibly medicinal out of mug. "I'd be worried if this was 'American Idol'--I wouldn't be winning tonight."
Her fans would be hard-pressed to agree. Crow's broad smile flickered to a grimace a couple of times, and her velveteen voice went Peppermint Patty occasionally, but the nine-time Grammy winner traipsed through a two-hour set like a warrior, even engaging in some modest bump-and-grind with backup singers Stephanie Alexander and Nayanna Holley.
The concert leaned heavily on material from the new album, which derives its name not just from the music but from Crow's upbringing in the Missouri bootheel town of Kennett, about 100 miles from Memphis. Crow performed all but one song from the new disc while virtually ignoring material from three albums released between 2002 and '08, C'mon C'mon, Wildflower and Detours. The comfort food on this chilly night, of course, were four hits from 1993's Tuesday Night Music Club, a couple of which were suitably funked-up.
Improvisation lightened the mood. She opened "Strong Enough," with the familiar lyric, "God, I feel like hell tonight," interjecting "... and I mean it," and she induced the crowd into several sing-alongs. But whenever her infirmity seemed to prevent Crow from doing the heavy lifting, her 10-piece backing band picked up the load.
Her co-writers for eight of her new songs, Doyle Bramhall II and Justin Stanley, were featured prominently--Bramhall and fellow guitarist Chris Bruce dueling on the new album's title track, and the whole ensemble sizzling deliriously on "Roses and Moonlight" and the Terence Trent D'Arby-penned "Sign Your Name." Crow had plenty in reserve for piano ballads "Stop" and the evening-ending "I Shall Believe."
"Please say honestly you / won't give up on me," Crow sings in that song, and on a night she cast herself as, at minimum, a believable soul singer, there wasn't much reason to.
Most striking about the set by opener Colbie Caillat was how much the Malibu-bred songstress looked like a young Sheryl Crow. Comparisons stop there, though--except for the single "Lucky" (co-written by Jason Mraz), the only other memorable moment was her cover of "Go Your Own Way," a song that Caillat's father, Ken, co-produced for Fleetwood Mac in the 1970s. She'd do well to heed that song's entreaty.
Our Love Is Fading
A Change Will Do You Good
Eye to Eye
100 Miles From Memphis
Can't Cry Anymore
Say What You Want To
Long Road Home
My Favorite Mistake
Sign Your Name
Every Day Is a Winding Road
Roses and Moonlight
If It Makes You Happy
Soak Up the Sun
All I Wanna Do / Got to Give It Up / I Want You Back
I Shall Believe