INTERVIEW - - 2 December

Sheryl Crow brings some country sun to Milwaukee's winter cold

By Matt Mueller Reporter

The sun carries almost no heat or warmth. A sharp face-tingling chill greets you as turn every corner on the street. There's not even any wonderful white snow on the ground to make the weather seem any more pleasant. Nope, it's just cold. It's hard to think of a better, more fitting time for Sheryl Crow, the singer-songwriter behind warm, summery hits like "Soak Up the Sun" and "All I Wanna Do," to come to town.

Not that Crow's career is limited to fun summer songs, of course. The Grammy-winning pop rock artist has a diverse resume, starting with a career in background vocals for stars like Michael Jackson and Don Henley, and later developing a signature sound that mixed her storytelling lyrics with hints of rock, roots, soul and pop. She's also had a dash of country in her music, something that gets pushed to the forefront on "Feels Like Home," her latest album and first official country record.

Crow is bringing some of that new country-focused sound, as well as some of her older hits, to the Riverside Thursday night. Before she hits the stage, though, we chatted with Crow about the move to country music, the inspirations behind the new album and the most influential person she's performed with. And considering her impressive career, she's got quite the list of singers and icons to choose from. Your latest album, "Feels Like Home," is, technically, your first dip into country music. You've always had a tad of country in your music, but this is really your first centralized country album. What inspired that change?

Sheryl Crow: Well, I was out of my record label, out of my deal that was basically a pop deal at a pop record label. I was living in Nashville; I've been living there since 2006 after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I always wanted to make a country record, but I was really reticent about doing it because I just felt like people would think I was just another pop star trying to crossover. I had so much encouragement and so many people coming to me – songwriters, performers, you know – saying you should make a country record.

Then Brad Paisley actually was the first one that, after I performed with Loretta Lynn and Miranda Lambert (at the 2010 CMA Awards), said, "It's time." And he was really helpful, and so we made this record.

OMC: Was it kind of nerve-wracking to hop genres like that?

SC: Not at all. I don't feel like I really changed what I do to make this record. I think it's more focused, I think, as far as the instrumentation toward the format, but it's basically the same thing I've been doing. I think the country format has definitely changed a lot. It's definitely broadened, with everything on there from super, super pop music to Southern rock. Basically what you don't hear in country is traditional country anymore.

OMC: What are your inspirations for your brand of country music?

SC: Well, I grew up with Emmylou Harris and Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, and I listened to Gram Parsons. I listened to the Rolling Stones as well. "Let It Bleed" and "Exile on Main Street," they're very country. And that was kind of my brand of country I probably snuck in through the back door.

OMC: You also mentioned that this is your most focused album, or one of your most focused albums, on your website. How so?

SC: One of the things when Brad initially came to me and said, "You belong in our format," he said all we need to do is turn your vocal up and make your songs that are already stories more first-person. Get in there and tell a story. And I wrote with several different songwriters, and I loved the process. That's the main thing that's probably different and more specific to the format, making sure that the stories are concise and that the songs are really lyric- and story-driven. You can get away with a lot with pop that you don't really necessarily get away with in country.

OMC: Other than that the first-person, how else did you feel your storytelling change from pop to country?

SC: Just making everything extremely understandable, leaving nothing to the imagination and just not making things nebulous.

OMC: How do you differentiate yourself in such a crowded country music field, especially since it seems like there are so many blonde, Top 40 country stars out there? How do you make sure that your music and performance stands out?

SC: Well, not everybody's blonde. I mean, there's some great females out there that are not blonde, like Gloriana and Thompson Square. There are a lot of really great performers. Unfortunately, country radio tends to not play women. I think really, for the most part, there are only about two or maybe three women who get played.

I don't really try to differentiate myself; I just try to do what I do. The music that I've written for this record are my stories, songs that are from my life. I'm a single mom. I'm a working mom. I've suffered loss. I've had great love. I mean, it's all personal stories, and that's the only way I can differentiate myself is to write stuff that has meaning for me. I'm definitely not trying to do what anybody else does because at the end of the day, I don't know if that really advances your art so much.

OMC: What is your favorite song off your new album?

SC: That's hard, but I would say either "Give It To Me" or "Waterproof Mascara." Both of those have a lot of meaning for me. "Waterproof Mascara" was actually the first song I wrote for the record, which I wrote with Brad and Chris DuBois. It's about being a single mom, and it's definitely a really strong country song. I'm proud of it. I hope it gets played; it's probably too country for the country format. A lot of people relate to it. I've played it a lot acoustic at radio events. I think it has a lot of meaning for people.

OMC: What is your favorite song to perform live?

SC: I love performing "Give It To Me." It's a blast. It's a real throwback to '60s country music, or '70s country music probably more.

OMC: You've performed with so many terrific artists in your day, Mick Jagger, Sting, the list goes on and on and on. Who is your favorite or most inspirational person that you've performed with?

SC: I love singing with Emmylou, more than anyone.

OMC: What is it about performing with her that means so much?

SC: She just … I don't know. She's just a beautiful person and a beautiful voice, and she just is somebody who's so wonderful at harmonizing. There's just something about our voices together that I love, and it makes me feel really inspired.

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