Sheryl Crow taps into musical sounds of her youth for '100 Miles from Memphis'

June 16, 2010

John Soeder, The Plain Dealer

Sheryl Crow sounds as if she couldn't be happier, even though she has her hands full. The Grammy-winning pop-rocker recently adopted her second son, Levi (now 7 weeks old), and her new album, "100 Miles from Memphis," comes out Tuesday, July 20. Crow, 48, spoke to us by phone last week from her home in Nashville.

Congratulations on the arrival of Levi. How hectic is the Crow household at the moment?

Everything is pretty easygoing right now. He's a great age, in that . . . he's eating, sleeping and pooping, and that's it. Wyatt [Crow's 3-year-old boy] is very excited about having a little brother, and he's great with him. We're getting ready to go on the road, and we're really looking forward to that.

What's involved with touring with kids?

When you go on the road, you just bring everything you think you're going to need. So with a baby, that revolves around cribs and milk and diapers, all that stuff. With a 3-year-old, we try to make it as much like home as possible, so we bring out all the things that he loves, that he's used to playing with.

We're a little bit like a traveling circus. We go straight to the gigs. We bring the baby pool and the bicycles. And we set up camp as soon as we get there.

From one new arrival to the next one: How close does "100 Miles from Memphis" come to the album you wanted to make?

It's spot-on. I really wanted to make an album that was true to that kind of music, and to my influences. I feel like we nailed it.

"Our Love Is Fading" and other songs have a classic Stax feel. Was that in the air when you were growing up?


I hate to date myself, but when I was growing up [in Kennett, Mo.], it was so much about the radio. My sister and I shared a room, and we would dial in the radio stations from Memphis. That's what we listened to.

When I got to be old enough to play in bands, there was a common dictionary that everybody had to learn, so that you could jam with each other. A lot of it was Motown, and a lot of it was Stax music and music out of Muscle Shoals.

You could be hired that way. You played for parties and weddings and things like that, and that was the dictionary music that you pulled from.

So I grew up always knowing it.

If those influences have been there all along, is it fair to say you're embracing them more wholeheartedly on this album?

I feel like it's an extension of what I've always done. It's just that the work that I've done on other records hasn't been purely that. I've had songs like "Now that You're Gone" and songs like "My Favorite Mistake" that have been straight out of that world. But I haven't made a full record out of it.

This is much more committed. It's the record I wanted to make, because it's much more about emotion and vulnerability and desire, which I feel are true aspects of myself and not ones that I've committed to fully as far as an entire record.

I've always written personal and sociopolitical songs. But this is really about desire and the more sensual things.

Some might say you've already recorded the ultimate summer hit with "Soak Up the Sun." With you new single, "Summer Day," are you in some ways competing with yourself?

Oh, gosh -- I would never even think of it like that.

It sounds weird, but my other records are so in the past. Every record that you make, it's like a journal entry. You've been there, you've turned the calendar page and then you're in a new month. So I don't even think about the old songs.

I'm really looking forward to going out and playing new material, material that I feel is about losing yourself in the music -- getting away from the oil spill, to a certain extent, and just enjoying the sensuality of this kind of music.

The exception would be "Say What You Want," where you sing: "If this is America, you'd never know it." It's a politically charged song.

I'm sure some people will be able to relate to the consternation about this whole Tea Party thing, and how there are so many people who are being incited with real campaigns of cynicism and fear. The song came about when I heard Sarah Palin talking about reloading, and the image that that conjures up for me.

Robert Kennedy always spoke in terms of consciousness and higher ideals. That's the kind of leadership that I long for. When Obama was campaigning, that was what resonated with me.

So to hear the leaders of the conservative party, or the Tea Party, talking about taking their government back -- I don't understand what that means. I'm frustrated, too. But I'm concerned that there's a tinge of racism, and there's a tinge of straight-up fear-mongering.

The kind of leadership that I'm seeing that's based in cynicism and snarkiness, I just don't consider that good leadership. I would hate to see us go the way of electing leaders who speak to us in terms of hatred and cynicism.

Given how deeply divided the country is, are you optimistic about the future?

Yeah. I am optimistic. I do believe there are as many people who are awake and conscious as there are people who are being led by cynicism and fear, and that ultimately goodness and truth prevail.

I hope that people will want better for themselves than to have leaders who speak to us in terms of reloading.

Where are the good vibes on the rest of the album coming from?

I am innately an optimistic person, otherwise I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing.

The good vibes on the record -- I guess your life informs your art, and my life is really about being awake now.

I have a sense of what it feels like to be closed off, and I don't ever want to be in that place. It's about being awake. It's about experiencing your emotions. And it's about allowing other people to see your vulnerabilities.

The year 2006 [when Crow ended a long-term relationship with cyclist Lance Armstrong and underwent treatment for breast cancer] was a refining year for me. It was a year of opportunity, when I could sort of rewrite what the rest of my life was going to look like.

I recorded my first record when I was 30, and I had a pretty strong sense of who I was already. . . . I've never been afraid to have people tell me that my [expletive] stinks. Do you know what I mean? [laughs]

I didn't get into what I'm doing because I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be respected.

How is your health?

Great. I've been cancer-free almost four years out. I'm fantastic.

I'm loving every minute of being a mom and watching my kids, particularly watching Wyatt become a little person.

I'm looking forward to having a great summer out on the road with him and Levi, and just taking it all in.

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