When Sheryl Crow's massive international hit All I Wanna Do propelled her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club into the stratosphere, it also helped to radically change the whole commercial environment for solo female rock artists. There is, it seems, little doubt that the album's brand of rock, with its astute and often controversial lyrical content, opened the door for a succession of "angry young women" singer/songwriters such as Alanis Morissette and Joan Osborne.
Crow therefore releases her follow-up album facing comparisons not only with her debut, but also with the works of the competition she has helped create. There is also one other significant factor. The success of Tuesday Night produced a lot of fallout, with some musicians who worked on the album sniping about the extent of Crow's own contribution. And this was followed by a split with her producer Bill Bottrell as they started to record the new LP.
In the circumstances, Crow has taken the brave option: she has more or less gone it alone with the new record, producing it herself. "There started to be so much bad press about me coming from people who worked on Tuesday Night," says Crow. "I was feeling slightly raw, over-exposed and burnt by some of the comments when I went in to make this album. But I also had a better idea about what I wanted to do."
David Anderle, executive vice president of A&R at A&M Records in Los Angeles, says, "Sheryl was justified in feeling slighted. She contributed a lot more to the songs and the style of music than she's been given credit for and the new album shows she's got the goods."
Crow reveals a slightly revised image of the making of her debut LP from the now fabled, apparently blissful Tuesday Night jamming sessions. "That came under interesting circumstances," she says, referring to the fact she had recorded a whole album before that, which neither she nor A&M saw fit to release. "To be honest, I made it because it seemed the right time to do it," she says.
Tuesday Night, however, is a hard act to follow. It contains a number of exceptional songs and a wholeness rare in a debut album. And for its much-vaunted looseness, it is also a extremely well-crafted record. But, when it came to the new one, Anderle says Bottrell and Crow had different views over how it should sound. "Bottrell was going in a softer direction," he says, "but Sheryl wanted a more edgy, harder sound - a mixture of rural and industrial."
Crow and Bottrell went to Daniel Lanois's Kingsway Studio in New Orleans to cut the record. "I wanted to get out of LA to get some of that voodoo vibe," says Crow. "Bill left after about a day and it turned out to be a good thing." So Crow took over production duties herself. "It was arduous, exciting and intimidating," she says. "I had a great time making it." Her previous production experience was limited to eight- or 12-track recordings of herself. "You at least have some idea about arranging things and orchestrations, but learning how to put things on tape together - that can be intimidating," she says.
Crow says she was helped hugely by the Kingsway house engineer Trina Shoemaker. "She's the most musical engineer I've ever worked with and she was prepared to experiment and stick her neck out," says Crow. "It's not about stadiums and being a rock goddess. Telling stories in music is a really old form and I imagine myself doing that for a while yet."