By Gary Graff
The Macomb Daily
After a brief flirtation with country music, Sheryl Crow is back to the kind of music that brought her to the rock ’n’ roll party — including platinum sales and Grammy Awards.
And she couldn’t be happier about it.
“It has the sound that we were famous for, so I guess it feels familiar and that’s great for me,” Crow, 55, says. She spoke by telephone from her home in Nashville about her 10th and latest studio album, “Be Myself,” which came out in April and debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart. It follows 2013’s country-flavored “Feels Like Home” but has far more in common with Crow’s work from the ’90 and early ’00s.
“I don’t mind that at all,” she adds. “I think there’s something kind of comforting with familiarity right now, while everything’s so foreign.”
Familiarity certainly breeds contentment among Crow’s fans. The Missouri native, following stints singing backup for Michael Jackson, Don Henley and others, sold more than 7 million copies of her 1993 debut album, “Tuesday Night Music Club,” and followed with eight more Top 10 albums and nine Grammy Awards. She also became a trusted collaborator for the likes of Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Sting, Tony Bennett and many others, and she dueted with Kid Rock on his 2002 hit “Picture.”
For “Be Myself” Crow worked with longtime co-producer Jeff Trott, who’s worked with her since her self-titled 1996 album, and also reunited with Tchad Blake, who was a collaborator in her early days.
“It was mostly just Jeff and I and a wonderful drum programmer in the room for the most part, which is basically how we made ‘The Globe Sessions’ and the ‘Sheryl Crow’ record,” she says. “A lot of our demos wound up being on the record. We write and record as we go and revisit it, and it’s hard to beat the demos.”
Crow adds that “part of the inspiration of the record was my just wanting to have a great time.”
“A lot of that early, spontaneous stuff that’s pretty loose was the byproduct of writing and recording at the same time, and that’s the way we did it this time and that’s the experience I wanted to have.”
Working in Nashville, Crow and Trott approached “Be Myself” almost as a day job, convening after they took their respective children to school and wrapping up by dinnertime.
“We set out to create an environment that felt like two kids in a laboratory, just mixing up concoctions,” explains Crow, who has two adopted sons, Wyatt, 10, and Levi, 7. “Even when I listen to it now and when I play it, I feel a sense of abandon and also a sense of urgency.”
And while “Be Myself” isn’t an overtly political album, and is downright cheerful for the most part, the tenor of the times did have an impact on the process.
“I will tell you that for me as an artist I can’t think of a more compelling time to be writing music,” Crow says. “To me it feels urgent and important and missionlike, and there was so much hanging in the air to write about that it was a very fast process and a very inspired process and not at all like a job.”
Having a new album out puts Crow back on the road, of course. She’s particularly excited about a handful of Outlaw Music Festival dates with Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and others — “more excited about this tour than things I’ve done in so many years,” Crow claims.
“I’m excited about everybody on the bill,” she says. “I get to see my favorite people in the world play, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan, and I think it’s going to be loose and it’s gonna be unpredictable and hopefully there’ll be people on and off each other’s stages.
“It’s gonna be like a traveling circus, which makes my heart sing. And that’s going to make for the funnest summer ever, just super fun.”
• If You Go: The Outlaw Music Festival with Willie Nelson & Family, Bob Dylan & His Band, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit and Lukas Nelson & the Promise of Real plays 3:30 p.m. Saturday, July 8 at Joe Louis Arena, 19 Yzerman Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $39.50-$129.50. Call 313-471-6611 or visit olympiaentertainment.com.
• Note: Sheryl Crow also performs as part of “Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular,” airing at 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 4, on NBC.