by: Rudy Palma
She has a lock on it if a special award is handed out for least interesting cover art (listing the tracks on it is a nifty retro look, though), but Sheryl Crow has produced the most interesting, if not the best, music of her career with “100 Miles From Memphis.”
For one thing, not a single moody ballad is among the tracks. There are no fist-pumping, politically-themed-rise-to-action anthems, either. Lightheartedness and peace accent even the album most serious moment, the standout “Stop,” a plea for safety and normalcy in a reliably imperfect world.
The no-frills cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” epitomizes the album’s cool, laid-back vibe. Her vocals are uncannily – and delightfully – similar to Michael Jackson’s.
No song among the dozen really stands out. This is not an album that will produce hits. Casual fans will long for something sweeter and catchier. However, others will be drawn in by the celebratory mood, sublimely pitch-perfect backing vocal harmonies and airtight musicianship that make songs like the well-oiled, beautifully arranged “Summer Day” and the airy, colorful title track absolutely and perfectly render Crow’s artistic vision a reality.
“Roses and Moonlight” rides an infectious, soulful groove with one of the album’s few noticeable choruses. “Say What You Want” has one of the album’s simplest lyrics, with Crow putting all pretense aside, resulting in one of the album’s cheeriest, most uplifting moments. Even the gloomy subject of matter of “Our Love Is Fading” does not detract from the optimistic atmosphere.
For an album so casual and folksy, its edges remain smooth and professional where it counts.
It is a pleasure to hear Crow cast her worries to the wind and let her confidence as a musician and songwriter lead the way. Her joy, sincerity and inner peace radiate through the songs, often making them sound more remarkable than they may actually be.
“100 Miles From Memphis” manages to acknowledge the unfortunate era in which it was recorded and yet remain willfully light, engaging and fun – a love letter to a time when music was more “live,” organic, fresh and unaffected than it is today. It is not Crow’s best, but it does demonstrate her great versatility and sense of adventure. She is, simply put, a hell of an artist.