Sheryl Crow

Feels Like Home

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Unlike, say, Bon Jovi, it is no great leap for Sheryl Crow to plunge into contemporary country on Feels Like Home. Tuesday Night Music Club, her 1993 debut, could've been called country-rock if it had been released in another era, and she's never shied away from roots music, either giving it a crisp, classy spin or taking a full stylistic detour, as she did on 2010's 100 Miles from Memphis. In some ways, that soul excursion felt like a greater departure for Crow than this 2013 album, as beneath the down-home accouterments of aggressive Telecasters, self-consciously country lyrics, the affected down-home twang in her voice, and the occasional fiddle, Feels Like Home feels like standard-issue Crow, the kind of record that could've been delivered after The Globe Sessions. Indeed, the opener "Shotgun" feels like an inversion of C'Mon C'mon's opener "Steve McQueen," "We Oughta Be Drinkin'" is a slower kissing cousin of "All I Wanna Do," "Easy" rolls along lazily but co-opts some of the clever cultural nods of Sheryl Crow, while "Nobody's Business" and "Best of Times" are cheerful roots-pop tunes that'd feel welcome on any of her albums. Crow runs into trouble when she tries to get a little too country, either by ratcheting up Music City melodrama to a ridiculous scale -- "Give It to Me" is brought down by its escalating synthesized strings, "Waterproof Mascara" by her own vocal histrionics -- or by writing relatable blue-collar vignettes so brimming with clichés they verge on the condescending. All the talk of tight times, downmarket beer, and gossip is targeted at a country audience, but when Crow sings of being poor or white trash, she has none of the authenticity of Kacey Musgraves; she has the air of a tourist -- from her phrasing and her polished accompaniment, it's all too clear that once she stops singing, she will go back to much cozier surroundings. Of course, part of the appeal of Feels Like Home is its show biz panache, how Crow cheerfully adapts to her surroundings and gives the people what she believes they want. That her instincts are often right speaks to her skills; that she veers into accidental condescension suggests this country move may be motivated by finding a new audience, not satisfying her existing one.

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