After her surprisingly strong country detour on 2013's Feels Like Home, Sheryl Crow is back to her old wheelhouse — namely, sunny-yet-wounded roots pop that manages to deliver radio-friendly earworms with a charming sense of grit and candour.
For Be Myself, her ninth solo album (and first for Warner), Crow has reunited with '90s collaborators Jeff Trott and Tchad Blake (mixing) to try to channel the vibe of her eponymous 1996 sophomore album and 1998's The Globe Sessions, this time working out of her own home barn/studio/saloon just outside of Nashville.
Crow both succeeds and fails; it succeeds because her songs are as catchy and genuine-feeling as ever, but fails partly because Be Myself is just too glossy. I find it hard to believe that the sometimes-cheeseball production — guitar chorus effect abuse; lifting the entirety of Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" intro for the bluesy "Long Way Back" — will ever sound timeless. Sheryl Crow was rockier; The Globe Sessions sounded more organic.
Still, this is a fun, rough ride through the crap side of dating (Crow is vitriolic on opener "Alone in the Dark"), the obstacles of social media ("I want your attention," she sings flirtily on "Roller Skate") and Crow's take on the combative, ideologically divided world we're in ("Halfway There," featuring Gary Clark Jr., is a swaggering pop-country driving tune with a gospel component that asks, "If God is love and love is God, then why do we argue?").
Crow is a crafty writer. The Beatles-esque "Rest of Me" is well written (there's even a hint of Neko Case here), though unfortunately tinny-sounding. It doesn't make you cry like "Waterproof Mascara" off her last album might have, but it's a good F-U and a clear message about setting boundaries in relationships; she'll give, but she won't give everything. And on the Stones-y, warts-and-all single and title track "Be Myself," Crow totally kicks ass: she visits (and maybe gives up on) her shrink, rhymes Adderall with alcohol, asks how many selfies you can take before you look like a jerk and retreats from the buzz band to her favourite neighbourhood bar. She screams like the Stones and hollers like Dolly Parton or Tammy Wynette. It's pretty honest stuff.
Be Myself is hardly a classic, but it's another solid, light-hearted sounding collection with some clear standouts on it. (Warner)