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Sheryl Crow - Detours Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 March 2008
ImageApply Sheryl Crow’s Detours directly to the brain.
Apply Sheryl Crow’s Detours directly to the brain.
Apply Sheryl Crow’s Detours directly to the brain.

Since Detours is about as great a release as you’ll ever get from a huge artist producing big product for a mega label, and since I know many of you will probably let it go by without a thought, I figured I’d hit you with a little of the advertising that works on the non-discerning, unsuspecting public these days.

Sheryl Crow has made what is easily the most artistically satisfying CD of her recording career. One that is so much better than her last release, the godawful Wildflower, that it’s hard to believe it sprang from the mind of the same person. Detours is proof that under difficult circumstances (in her case: a microscopic intrusion into her private life, a little political indignation and a bout with cancer), a gifted musician like Crow can respond with both maturity and an extended middle finger.

She and producer Bill Bottrell are so confident about the music in Detours that they start it off with “God Bless this Mess,” an acoustic folk song that puts Crow’s righteous political anger in full focus. What makes this choice seem confident isn’t the music or the lyrics, but the track’s medium. “God Bless this Mess” was recorded on a cassette deck and after one listen you can understand why they choose to release this version. They knew they’d never be able to recapture the nuance and fire of the original.
And from there Detours slides easily into its best song, “Shine Over Babylon.” With a loping back beat and the audacity to rhyme ganja with hand ya, SOB continues Crow’s personal statement of political anger while priming the pump for a release that has only one colossal dud, the irritatingly catchy children’s sing-song “Out of Our Heads” (which prompted my other half to shout, “This is the song I hate!”) and one super-duper, sure-fire, sell some product hit single “Love is Free.” Apart from these two songs I think Detours, which I repeat should be applied directly to the brain, is a marvel because it easily contains some of the most creative production work I’ve ever heard on a make or break, big sales expected mega release.

Whether it’s the mid-Eastern tinge of “Peace Be Upon Us” or the David Baerwald triage-sounding story song “Gasoline,” I wonder how she’s gotten away with tossing such a wide array of oddball choices into a major label release. For example, why did they leave in the “count in” for “Make It Go Away (Radiation Song)”? And how did they come up with the idea of the ambient noise that permeates the song. These are but a few of the questions that leave me stunned and perplexed and force me, just this once, to use “Sheryl Crow” and “quirky” in the same sentence. But that’s the only way to describe exactly what’s going on with Detour. It’s as smooth as chocolate pudding but clangs and bangs and goes against your expectations at all the right times.

And when it comes to songs she’s a real craftsman. Listen to the title cut, with its “Can’t Find My Way Home” feel, and you’ll instantly start thinking about what it will sound like when the Dixie Chicks cover it. But it’s the lightly placed guitar harmonics (a subtle and odd choice) that hold the song together. And when you’re grooving to the early ‘70s pseudo-soul of “Now That You’re Gone” you may wish Al Green was singing with her, but it’s the E.L.O. strings that ultimately grab your attention.

And it’s that way throughout all of Detours. “Drunk With the Thought of You” sounds like a hillbilly sea chanty in _ time, on “Diamond Ring” she channels Plastic Ono Band-era John Lennon to say something which I imagine is directed at a guy named Lance, and on “Love Is All There Is” she melds George Harrison and Gwen Stefani into a pop gem about loneliness and love that each of us can understand. “When you’re lonely inside, you just can’t see/Does anybody want you, does anybody need you, the question is?” Deep in my formerly aching skull (see below) something tells me I shouldn’t like this song, but just the opposite, I find it to be refreshingly honest and emotionally pure. Just as I do the closer, “Lullaby for Wyatt,” which is beautiful, heartfelt, and doesn’t leave any room for hatred.

In the interest of full disclosure I must admit I’ve been a fan of Sheryl Crow since her first release Tuesday Night Music Club. Now I know that apart from her beauty, amazing talent as a musician and songwriter, and selfless work for social causes, there’s not much to like about her, but for some reason I fell into the pattern of buying her music and listening to it repeatedly. But when the aforementioned Wildflower arrived I thought it was so wretched I labeled it a Rod Stewart-level turd and seriously considered whether I’d spend any more money on her music. It was so bad it gave me a headache.

Luckily she released Detours, an hour-long commercial for talent and creativity, which I immediately applied directly to my brain. My bad case of Wildflower disappeared almost instantly. Thanks Sheryl Crow. Thanks Detours.

I downloaded Detours from iTunes @ 128kbps – 44.100 kHz. I didn’t have a choice for an iTunes Plus version which is disappointing because this release would have greatly benefitted from one. As I mentioned, it is one of the best produced recordings I’ve heard in quite a while. It’s definitely worth listening to in headphones for an amazing assortment of detail, and seems ripe for the 256kbps version. Instead I believe the high end has been chopped, with the result being it sounds much flatter in an upper register that really needs to sparkle. The louder I played it on my home theater system the better it sounded, for whatever that’s worth, and it passes my car test, although I don’t think it’s a release I’ll carry with me on a road trip.

Extra Features
My download of Detours came with a nifty digital booklet that mirrored the one from the physical release, and two additional songs, a cover of Jackson Brown’s “Doctor My Eyes” and the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” The Brown cover is a delight because you can hear the words to a great song more clearly than on the original, and the arrangement actually made it hold together better. “Here Comes the Sun” is a faithful recreation, and I’d bet it is included because the original helped her through some hard times. The hidden extra feature on Detours is the fact that Sheryl Crow still makes me feel funny in the nether regions in that 13 year old boy way. That, my friends, comes without a price tag.

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