SPAC - Saratoga Springs, NY - August 25, 2006

Sheryl Crow offers a classic rock act

By GREG HAYMES, Staff writer
First published: Sunday, August 27, 2006

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- After a battle with breast cancer earlier this year ("I'm good now," she declared), Sheryl Crow is back, and the second stop on her current tour brought her to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Friday evening to kick off Travers weekend.

It's hard to remember that when she burst on the scene 13 years ago, Crow had a quirky, street-smart sound that was more akin to Rickie Lee Jones than any of the pop divas of the day. Along the way, she's lost her beatnik slur and polished her rough edges for a wider-reaching, more mainstream sound.

While she has remained contemporary, Crow is still a classic rocker at heart, as she proved with her rendition of Cat Stevens' "The First Cut Is the Deepest," a bit of Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown" tacked on the end of "Home" and an encore of Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll." Her own songs are rooted in the classics, too. "Hard to Make a Stand" is a second cousin to Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane." "Redemption Day" nicks Bob Dylan, and "Steve McQueen" pays homage to Steve Miller.

Backed by a four-piece band and a string quartet, Crow switched back and forth between guitar and bass from the opening romp of "A Change Would Do You Good" and "There Goes the Neighborhood" to the closing brace of pop anthems, "Soak Up the Sun" and "Everyday Is a Winding Road."

"Strong Enough," played on an acoustic guitar in unplugged fashion with some solid fiddle playing by the string quartet leader, was one of Crow's most passionate tunes, but others -- like the chugging "Real Gone" from the "Cars" soundtrack were simply throwaways. And try though she might, Crow just never seemed to kick the concert into high gear.

After an excursion into the blues with his latest live trio album, "Try," John Mayer was back to his adult-contemporary pop roots with his 75-minute set on Friday. Yes, his guitar playing was more confident than in the past, with a tougher, meatier sound on tunes such as "Covered in Rain" and "Something's Missing." But for the most part, Mayer's pop sound still comes across like a hybrid of Dave Matthews and Michael Franks.

In addition to such hits as "No Such Thing" and "Daughters," Mayer and his five-piece band (occasionally augmented by a pair of horn players) also offered a handful of tunes from his upcoming CD, "Continuum," including the overblown "In Repair" and the slow blues guitar rave-up "Gravity." The best of the batch was the soulful "I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)."

The worst was "Waiting On the World to Change." Not only was it a blatant rip-off of Curtis Mayfield's classic gospel-blues "People Get Ready," but lyrically, the song was a disheartening call to apathy, with such lyrics as "We see everything that's going wrong with the world and those who lead it. We just feel like we don't have the means to rise above and beat it. So we keep waiting, waiting on the world to change."

Nashville's Mat Kearney opened the show with a half-hour set culled from his major-label debut album, "Nothing Left to Lose." Backed by a three-piece band, Kearney attempted to fuse together chiming U2-like anthems, sensitive singer-songwriter story-songs and acoustic hip-hop shuffles. Greg Haymes can be reached 454-5742 or by e-mail at

Source: Albany Times Union