PIX/LIVE REVIEW - Minnesota State Fair - 25 August

Grandstand review: Sheryl Crow wants to be country; Dwight Yoakam is the real thing

By Ross Raihala
Photos: Jefferson Wheeler/Startribune.com

Once the hits dry up, some artists decide it's time to make a Christmas album. Or a record for kids. Or, in the case of Sheryl Crow, they give country music a shot.

It can be a tricky business. Just ask Crow's contemporary, Jewel, who has tried (and mostly failed) all three genres. Country fans, in particular, are wary of carpetbaggers. Darius "Don't Call Me Hootie" Rucker managed to make the transition, but he's the exception to the rule.

That hasn't stopped Crow, 51, from trying. Sunday night, she headlined the Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair with support from an actual country artist, Dwight Yoakam. Given that Crow has long since perfected that southern California, mid-'70s country rock sound that Nashville adores, it wasn't that much of a leap for her to go full-on twang.

And twang is what she brought Sunday night, in front of 5,361 fans. Backed by a six-piece band, including a pedal steel guitarist, Crow added a touch of country to her old hits like "All I Wanna Do," "The First Cut Is the Deepest" and "Soak Up the Sun."

She also worked in a handful of tracks from her upcoming "Feels Like Home" album, which is due out next month. Some of the new songs, like her current single "Easy," got a bit repetitious, but they mostly fit in just fine with the rest of Crow's material. It remains to be seen whether the country crowd accepts Crow's new direction, but at least none of the fresh songs came across as too pandering. And she's certainly working hard to get it out there, as she already had played two Minnesota casino gigs and Glamorama this summer before hitting the Grandstand.

Throughout the show, Crow smiled and swayed and made the most of her sometimes thin voice, which often got overshadowed by up to four guitars that were cranked far too high. She talked about how she once almost married a guy from Minneapolis (she dated filmmaker Joe Blake early in her career) and how she loves horses, funnel cakes and cold beer. (It should be noted that Crow wrote a cookbook named, no lie, "If It Makes You Healthy." Available used on Amazon for 59 cents, it probably does not include a recipe for funnel cake.)

As for Yoakam, his opening set was nearly as long as Crow's, and he delivered hit after hit after hit, from "A Thousand Miles from Nowhere" to "Little Ways" to "Fast as You."

The 56-year-old Kentucky native still rocked his trademark vacuum-sealed blue jeans but didn't move quite as much as he did back in the day. That may have had something to do with the stifling heat. His terrific guitarist, Eugene Edwards, often looked as if he was about to pass out. Indeed, it was too steamy for the crowd to do much dancing for Yoakam, but he easily could have headlined the evening on his own.

Photo: Jefferson Wheeler/Startribune.com

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Photo: upperjraymond

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:: REVIEW #2 ::

CONCERT REVIEW: Sheryl Crow's country voice was overwhelmed at Minnesota State Fair show

review: Crow’s twangy voice was overwhelmed in State Fair grandstand show.

By John Bream

Sheryl Crow is trying to pull a Hootie. Oops, sorry, make that a Darius Rucker.

Like the lead singer of Hootie & the Blowfish, Crow is trying to make the transition from a big 1990s pop star to a new-millennium country star.

She has the requisite Nashville address, pedal steel guitar and “y’alls” in her conversation. But she doesn’t wear rhinestones, fuss with her long hair or subscribe to conservative politics (in fact, she’s a liberal Democratic activist). Still, she’s already had sizable country hit, the Kid Rock duet “Picture,” and she’s releasing her first album for Warner Music Nashville on Sept. 10.

At the State Fair grandstand on Sunday, Crow previewed five songs from her new album. She definitely knows how to write a country tune that has the right hook and emotional impact.

And it was clear that at least a couple of her old hits, namely “Strong Enough” and “If It Makes You Happy,” could easily be country hits.

But there was something that could hold her back in country. And, no, it isn’t necessarily her age (at 51, while she doesn’t look it, she might be a bit advanced for country’s core crowd). It was her inability to consistently sell a song in concert, which is essential for country.

It’s not that she doesn’t have the voice or the ability to deliver her emotion-packed lyrics. The issue was that the guitars in her band were almost always too loud, drowning out her voice. In country concerts, voice is the most important instrument.

Curiously, the electric guitars were dialed down on Crow’s new, rock-flavored selections, including the strutting “Best of Times” featuring Crow’s smokin’ harmonica, and “Shotgun,” which is about riding in the front seat, not shooting guns. Remember, she’s a liberal from Missouri.

The other new numbers were the single “Easy,” which sounds like bland laid-back Crow pop, and the more country-sounding and emotion-packed “Call Me When I’m Lonely” and the impassioned ballad “Give It To Me,” both of which have hit potential.

Several of her pop hits connected with maximum effect. “Can’t Cry Anymore” found her wailing and testifying at the end, and “Soak Up the Sun,” a slice of makes-you-happy pop fluff, had the 5,361 fans singing along. And she surprised them with a killer rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” to end her 90-minute show.

Crow demonstrated the smiley, chatty persona that goes with being in country music. She mentioned her kids, State Fair stuff and her opening act, Dwight Yoakam. She talked about her love of the Midwest and how she almost married a Minneapolis man (she did an impression of filmmaker Joe Blake’s mom with a Minnesota accent: “Joe, you betcha”).

Crow clearly has the ingredients and potential for country stardom. Now if she can just get her sound engineer and band ready to go country.

In his opening 70-minute set, Yoakam, 57, showed why he has reigned as an exciting country maverick for more than 25 years. He has smartly crafted songs; a stellar California honky-tonk sound with a little British Invasion rock seasoning; a crackerjack, rhinestone-enwrapped band featuring Gene Edwards’ versatile twangy guitar; an effective voice and undiminished sex appeal thanks to his tighty Dwighty jeans and that little boot scootin’ shuffle he does. Even Crow said she wished she could do that move, but she admitted not with her high heels on.


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