Multi-platinum singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow’s first country album, Feels Like Home, is remarkably very, very country. Aligning herself more with the Ashley Monroes, Kacey Musgraves and Vince Gills of the genre, Sheryl’s eighth studio album sings of heartache and desire with a talent for razor sharp wordplay.
Working with acclaimed producer Justin Niebank (Vince’s Guitar Slinger, Ashley’s Like A Rose) and a who’s who list of Nashville hit songwriters, Sheryl steers clear of pop country trends in favor of a stripped down and traditional-based sound. Warm arrangements full of acoustic/electric guitar, pedal steel and a lockstep rhythm section flow easily through open production while Sheryl’s silky voice shows exactly why she’s won nine Grammy awards since her debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club, in 1993.
Co-writing 10 of the album’s 12 songs, Sheryl heads straight for the door marked “Honky Tonk Heartache and Barroom Bliss” on Feels Like Home, which was released September 10. Exhibiting loneliness usually reserved for the most forlorn, “Callin’ Me When I’m Lonely” and “Waterproof Mascara” (which she co-wrote with Brad Paisley) are soul-baring and raw. The former builds around faraway, blues-filled guitar melodies while the latter features one of the most cutting lines in recent memory. Thank God they make waterproof mascara, she sings, because it won’t run like his daddy did. Add in classic Nashville Sound strings, the low hum of guitar amps and Sheryl’s burdened delivery to create an exceedingly vulnerable experience.
Sheryl knows how to turn a phrase and much of Feels Like Home is packed with lyrical twists and witty double-meanings that illustrate deeper points. Taking shots at celeb-obsessed culture on “Crazy Ain’t Original,” she sings, What everyone used to call a freak show/now we call reality TV. Singing of insulated small town life on “Homecoming Queen,” it’s the words, Too bad life ain’t like a local parade in your uncle’s Corvette on a Saturday, that drive the point home. Like she sings in the slow-mo, groove-focused, “Drinking,” where fuzzy guitar mimics tomorrow morning’s haze, we’re living in a country song, and Sheryl’s insight translates well to the stories on Feels Like Home.
Sheryl credits Vince Gill and Brad Paisley with helping to immerse her in Nashville’s songwriting scene when she first moved to Music City. Vince and Ashley Monroe guest on the seductive “Give It To Me” and Zac Brown joins on “Homesick.” The sublime chorus of “Homesick” pairs Sheryl and Zac in estranged harmony for one of the album’s finest moments. Here and on the moving “Stay At Home Mother,” dreamlike instrumentation wraps the songs in delicate emotion.
Not all the songs on Feels Like Home are delicate though. Letting loose with dirty guitar riffs on the walking contradiction “Best of Times” and a funk-blues bent on “Shotgun,” Sheryl’s not afraid to mix it up a little bit. “Nobody’s Business” has a swinging, ’70s rock vibe while the lead single “Easy” is as relaxed as a summer day spent on the back porch. Sheryl’s performances are always natural and her inspired deliveries leave little room to argue that in country music, she is most certainly feeling right at home.
Key Tracks – “Homesick,” “Drinking,” “Callin’ Me When I’m Lonely,” “Crazy Ain’t Original”