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Sheryl Crow: 100 Miles From Memphis
In 1994, Sheryl Crow burst onto the music scene with 'All I Wanna Do,' a witty song that perfectly blended rock, soul and pop– a sound that became Crow’s trademark for the rest of her career. This woman was undeniably cool, from her curly brown hair and beaten leather jacket, to her gravelly voice and original songs. Throughout the 90s and 2000s, she gave us hits like 'Every Day is A Winding Road,' 'If It Makes You Happy' and 'My Favourite Mistake'. Crow has collaborated with some of the biggest names in rock history, including Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Sting and Tina Turner. A nine-time Grammy Award winner, she has seen five of her seven studio albums go platinum.
So why she would ever make an album like this one beats us. 100 Miles From Memphis is touted as Crow’s return to the soul roots of her hometown of Memphis. Taking soul and pop classics, Crow tries to rework the melodies with her own edge, yet most tracks result in sub-par karaoke versions.
The album’s first single 'Summer Day' is styled in the vein of her 2008 hit 'Soak Up the Sun.' Featuring horns, strings and a funk/soul vibe, the song’s backing vocals and string accompaniment seem to overpower Crow’s vocals, leading one to wonder if perhaps she’s lost her vocal strength.
'Say What You Want To' is a blunt display of Crow’s political beliefs, featuring a brass horn band, harmonica and a melody that sounds like 70s funk in the style of Sly and The Family Stone. 'Sign Your Name' takes an excellent Terence Tent D’arby classic and gives it a slower tempo that doesn’t work at all. Crow seems to struggle with her voice, often warbling when the notes are too high, while Justin Timberlake’s background vocals are sedated so as not to overpower hers.
'Eye to Eye' features the immortal Keith Richards on guitar, and the track has a mystifying reggae beat that really doesn’t pair well with Crow’s vocals. 'I Want You Back' is Crow’s tribute to Michael Jackson, where she sings note for note exactly as the 11-year-old Jackson did on the original. It’s so spot-on that you may think that you’re listening to a Jackson impersonator, which is not a good thing for an established singer like Crow.
The album's sole highlight is her cover of Citizen Cope’s 'Sideways,' where Cope himself is featured on background vocals, and the duet works surprisingly better than his original.
With her impressive repertoire and musical maturity, it's mystifying as to why Crow would make this album. Perhaps she’s not taking too well to aging. 100 Miles From Memphis seems to proove Crow’s refusal to draw on the wisdom and expertise that she’s gained as a musician. On this album she insists on stepping outside of her comfort zone and attempting high-pitched notes that seem quite uncomfortable for her. Instead of improving on classics, she only makes us yearn for the originals. All this from someone that brought so much charm and sophistication into 90s soul and rock music.
In eleven songs, they built a unique sound that you couldn't quite put your finger on: slow beats dressed in austerity, accompanied by enigmatic lyrics and lone wondering guitars. With a Mercury music prize under their belt and almost every music critic at their feet, they started work on their sophomore album.
But overall, this album is much less introverted. Both Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim seem to have gained confidence as singers and hone their vocal skills with more conviction then they did on their debut album.
Beatmaster Jamie xx, having built a very solid reputation as a producer in between the creation of the two albums, also steps closer to the limelight on this record. Even more songs than on the debut album are built on beats instead of a guitar riff and those beats are slightly more experimental than they previously were. There is even some steel drum - certainly not the hippest of instruments - seeping through in ‘Reunion’.
It’s strange to think that it’s been three years since British singer-songwriter Adele released her debut album 19. That’s probably because her single ‘Chasing Pavements’ was on tight rotation on every radio station, music channel and department store playlist that you had the misfortune of coming across. Traditionally, the type of burnout that the track received would not bode well for a follow-up album. Expectation builds among fans and critics alike, and you can’t help but flinch as you nervously press play, hoping for the best as you do so.
Breathe easy, though. The soulful and big-voiced 22-year-old Londoner has returned with a sophomore album that is light-years ahead of her successful debut. Opening tracks ‘Rolling in The Deep’ and ‘Rumour Has It’ provide a decent dose of foot-stomping, finger-wagging sass from an artist whose spirit was in the past lost in over-thought and overwritten, characterless pseudo-ballads.
Such pitfalls have weeded their way through still, such as 'Turning Tables,' which is instantly forgettable, and ‘Take It All,’ which sounds like a backing track to a generic Oxfam advert. These tracks both showcase Adele’s voice well, but do her little justice as the singer-songwriter she is becoming.
Her song-writing has gained more on a level par with her voice, and even though her words still sound better in your ear than they read on paper, songs like ‘Set Fire to The Rain’, ‘One And Only’, and ‘Someone Like You’ are likely to strike a nerve or two. Deeply personal these songs may be; it’s the upbeat numbers such as ‘He Won’t Go’ and ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ that carry the album.
There’s such a thing as a song being bigger
than its artist. The rapid rise of Adele could have very easily developed into
a dull repeat of her first album, engineered by evil, life-sucking moneymen.
This would have been dutifully followed by a series of upsetting guest
appearances on a grimy British rap record, a droning club remix of something,
and maybe even a Mark Ronson b-side.
Thankfully for everyone, she has bloomed like the flower she is, and gained a song-writing voice that’s very close to being worthy of her singing voice. All she needs now is a jailed co-dependent partner, a drug addiction and a messy beehive hair extension.