Sheryl Crow - Evolution
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Evolution (Big Machine Label Group, 2024)

Sheryl Crow

Reviewed by Jeff Lincoln

Sheryl Crow was done. She said in more than one public forum that 2019's "Threads" would be her last studio album. It wasn't that the honeycomb voice had soured or that she had creatively dried up. Rather, it was the music business itself. The unwritten, but rule showed the mainstream record companies emphasized young pop starlets. They didn't just rule the charts – they were the charts. Crow's conclusion was, in paraphrase, that yes, she could make an album, but now in her early 60s, radio probably wouldn't play it, and nobody would hear it.

Post-pandemic, though, her cynicism changed to enthusiasm for a new batch of songs. As further encouragement, Crow was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2023. It's all been quite a journey for the "Every Day is a Winding Road" artist, a former music teacher from Missouri and backup singer for Michael Jackson.

This album is more than just a victory lap on a great career – it is catchy, vital and terrific. Try getting the pop-perfect opener "Alarm Clock" out of your head on first listen. What a shapeshifter of a voice Crow possesses – is that Susana Hoffs in "Evolution" or Amy Grant in "Waiting in the Wings"? Hey, if you have your pick of angels to sound like, go for it.

Crow can still call on those high treble blues accents ("Do It Again") to bring us right back to what made her work in the '90s distinctive. But as a main attraction, Crow intends to show what she's learned as a grown-up. Crow is lyrically trying to get her trauma excised, her kids raised right and just stay centered in a topsy-turvy world. She saves time for a beautiful weeper, "Don't Walk Away" and a very-mild political nose thumb "Broken Record," which is mostly about the importance of being nice. Yes, Crow's still capable of a misfire (the answer to the edible-driven "Where?" is the trash bin). But for a record that didn't even seem likely to exist, it's awash in determination.

For a real surprise, check out the funky Prince-sendup "Love Life," which even brings in Wendy and Lisa from the Purple One's band. The "Deluxe" edition includes Crow's take on the Peter Gabriel classic, "Digging in the Dirt." Although Gabriel does participate, it still has Crow's stamp on it – less world rhythm drum loops and a brighter, more optimistic, arrangement.

Despite the handful of diversions, "Evolution" scores as a straight-ahead, excellent pop album of what's on a mature woman's mind. It would be almost too easy to dismiss music this earnest as mom rock, in desperate need of more menace or malice. But hey, Crow might say -- how many Hall of Fame trophies do you have?

CDs by Sheryl Crow

Evolution, 2024 Threads, 2019 Feels LIke Home, 2013

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