There are a few little identifiers that make a song distinctly ‘Sheryl Crow’, and you can find the major one on the title track of the icon’s new album, Be Myself. It’s the way she bends the ends of her phrases: they swing up, almost like an Australian inflection, or they curve down, like she’s finishing a spoken sentence.
It’s such an innate style, in fact, that Crow doesn’t even realise she does it. “That is funny,” she laughs. “I remember doing a master class at Dartmouth, and one of the things we were talking about was what creates [a vocalist’s] original sound – a lot of the time it’s the intervals they choose. I’m completely not conscious of doing that.”
You can hear those conversational bends through Crow’s past nine albums, and in preparation for her tenth, she says she revisited them – but only a few. “I can safely say I never listen to my records – that would be torture,” she smiles. “But I wanted to remind myself of what the spirit of the records was, particularly the second and third. The second one was really the result of the first being so huge, and feeling like, man, I just want to make music for fun without the pressure… you feel that brattiness on that record. The third was the result of a super painful breakup. This record, it feels like it’s right on the surface… there [are] so many things weighing on everybody’s minds here [in America].”
Utilising the talents of Jeff Trott – Crow’s producer, whom she’s known for 23 years and describes as her “musical husband” – the musician’s latest album does engage with current socio-political issues (just check out the video for the Gary Clark Jr.-featuring single Halfway There, and notice which political leader’s bobble head is the only one not bobbing). Woo Woo is a cheeky feminist anthem; the awesome knocking cowbell and sweet glock of Grow Up make it sound like a Sky Ferreira hit; and Roller Skate questions whether the lack of human connection in kids’ lives might affect them badly in the long run. “[Technology] may keep us connected but it also creates a massive chasm,” Crow explains. “If I had a crystal ball… I don’t know how long humanity is going to be able to sustain this way of living, or if it’s going to have to get a lot worse before it ultimately changes.” (The person hollering “Roller skaters!” on that track is Jeff Trott, says Crow: “I’m from a really small town, so we used to roller skate a lot; it’s where you went and hooked up with people – they’d get on the mic, “Roller skaters, let’s dance.”)
Love Will Save The Day is the most moving ballad you’ll have heard in ages, and features the breathy chords of a harmonium. “That song was the result of a really tragic situation with this young boy – he was 14 – who committed suicide,” Crow explains. “His parents, they’re a couple that I’ve met. It was one of those things that really made me stop and think how difficult it must be growing up in this day and age. It’s already hard to grow up, but to have the pressures that these kids have now… that song was inspired by this idea that you’re never alone – even when you’re so convinced that you’re alone, you’re never really alone. It just takes someone reminding you of that.”
Be Myself is out now on vinyl and CD via Warner.