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Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow: 'Home' in Nashville

The singer-songwriter embraces life and music in the country capitol

By Phyllis Stark
Special to MSN Music

It's not so much that Sheryl Crow left pop music for country music, the singer insists, but rather, that country music came to her.

Following a hugely successful pop run that included winning nine Grammy Awards between 1994 and 2002, Crow released her first country set, "Feels Like Home," on Sept. 10. First single "Easy" is in the top 20 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart.

Crow, who is raising her two young sons in Nashville and attends church, playgroups and school functions with the country music industry elite, says that format eventually broadened to encompass her sound, not necessarily the other way around.

"If country music is Nashville, I'm kind of like a suburb," she says. "In a weird way, I've been absorbed into the city limits and haven't really changed that much in what I do." She points out that the biggest hit of her career, 1993's "All I Wanna Do," featured steel guitar from beginning to end, an instrument more closely associated with country than pop.

"I feel like I'm doing the same thing," she says of her new music, "but the songwriting's better. It's much more focused."

New this week: Sheryl Crow

In one major way, Crow's new music is a departure from what's getting airplay on country radio lately in the sense that it's significantly better. While country radio subsists largely on songs about dirt roads, rednecks, booty shaking, parking lot parties and endless boy-meets-girl anthems, Crow tackles more substantive fare on "Feels Like Home."

While the staycation-themed "Easy" is on the lighter side and the album does include a fun drinking song titled, appropriately, "We Oughta Be Drinking," it also includes a trio of titles that pack a wallop. The heart-tugging "Waterproof Mascara," which Crow co-wrote with Brad Paisley, tells of a single mother struggling to explain to her child why he has no father while handling the responsibilities of both parents. The equally poignant "Stay at Home Mother" details a parent dealing with a child who begs her not to go off to work on the road. "Homecoming Queen," meanwhile, is about an aging beauty queen whose life peaked in high school. The first two are autobiographical. The third, obviously, is not.

In addition to Paisley, Crow collaborates with several other country music stars on "Feels Like Home." Zac Brown handles harmony vocals on "Homesick." Vince Gill and Ashley Monroe are featured on "Give It to Me," and Monroe makes a second appearance on the track "Crazy Ain't Original."

MSN Music recently caught up with Crow for a candid chat in her hay-fragranced recording studio, built over the stables at the Nashville farm complex where she lives with her boys.

MSN Music: It's been 20 years since your first album came out. What would "Tuesday Night Music Club" Sheryl Crow think of "Feels Like Home"?

Crow: I think she would love it. It's not off course. It's definitely a grown-up version of what that record was. That record was really scrappy and defiant and a little on the wild side. It was rough around the edges. This [new album] is a pretty clear depiction of the same person, but maybe a little more seasoned.

You're in a completely different place now.

Yeah. I own a car that doesn't break down. That's a big thing as opposed to the early days. [And] I don't hang out with my buddies and conspiracy theorize until 4 in the morning. Those days are behind me.

Bing: More on Sheryl Crow

You've been working incredibly hard to promote this single and album: visiting stations on a radio tour, doing interviews at 6 a.m., things only a new artist would really be expected to do. Why bother when you're already a star?

Because I am a new artist [in country]. I'm the new kid at school. I'm definitely starting over at a new format, and, honestly, it's the most organic thing I've done in ages.

Before "Easy," you've appeared on the country chart seven times. What was Brad Paisley's role in encouraging you to finally make a whole country album?

I've had people say for a long time, "You need to make a country record." But he came to me after the Loretta Lynn collaboration [on a 2010 remake of "Coal Miner's Daughter" that featured Lynn, Crow and Miranda Lambert] and said, "I really believe you belong at this format. I want to help you navigate the waters and introduce you to some songwriters." In fact, he and [his business partners] Chris DuBois and Frank Rogers signed me and said, "We're going to help you get a record deal. We really believe in this." So they were — Brad, in particular — very integral in my being where I'm at now.

Your career now parallels that of Darius Rucker, who smoothly transitioned into country in 2008 on his first try. But he's told MSN Music that until his third country album came out and he'd been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, he didn't fully feel like part of the community. Your situation is different because you've actually lived in Nashville for a while. Do you now feel like part of the community?

I've felt like I was a part of the community for quite a while. ... It is a very small town and I've made really good, solid friends here. But do I feel like I belong? I believe that it will be like with Darius where the jury's still out [with people wondering], am I here for the long haul? Is this authentic? I'm going to have to prove myself just like everybody else, and that's fine, because I do feel like what I'm doing is authentic to me. ... I'm hoping people will see me as being here for the right reasons.

MSN Music interview: Darius Rucker

This album is full of songs that are meaningful, a departure from a lot of today's lightweight country hits. Was that a deliberate strategy, or is that just what happens when you put pen to paper these days?

Let's just say I have to write what's a reality for me. What people pick up on is whether you're being authentic or not. For me to write songs from my point of view, I have to bring my life into that. Obviously your life informs your art. ... If you're writing for yourself, I think it is glaring when you are writing to just try to [have] hits.

Let's talk about the three songs that comprise the album's emotional center, starting with "Homecoming Queen."

I have two outside [written] songs on the record, and "Homecoming Queen" is one of them. ... I like the idea of what happens when you burn out early. I think that is an age-old theme, when you had everything when you were in high school and then life forever after seems to be a disappointment. That's what that song is about.

What about "Waterproof Mascara" and "Stay at Home Mother"?

They are verbatim from my life. I had an eye patch on a couple of weeks ago [from] teaching my kids how to play tennis. If they had a dad, maybe their dad would be doing that. But all those things, right now, until a dad steps forward for them, I'm doing.

"Stay at Home Mother" [also] is verbatim. I tell my kids all the time, "I'm going to be gone three sleeps," or, "I'm going to be gone four 'Octonauts' or four 'Paw Patrol's -- whatever [cartoon] they're watching at the moment. The only way they can really index time is by the measurements they understand.

In an interview with MSN Music at CMA Music Festival in June, you said this album is filled with songs that are complete thoughts.

I love the tradition of writing. From the very earliest songwriting I ever did, I always wrote narratively where the song — although it might have been about a character — always had a beginning, a middle, some redemptive moment and an end. True crafting of a song, that tradition really exists at country more so now than at any other format. So for me to write country songs wasn't a stretch insofar as just structurally, that's what country songs are based on, good storytelling. You're telling a story of the reality of what it means to be alive.

Video: Watch an interview with Sheryl Crow from the CMA Music Festival

Veteran entertainment journalist Phyllis Stark has been reporting extensively on the music industry for two decades. As a freelance writer, her work appears regularly in numerous publications and sites. She previously was Nashville bureau chief at Billboard magazine.

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Sep 11, 2013 11:08AM
Great News Crow Fans - I just heard that she's close to signing a deal to be the opening act for the Dixie Chicks!  it's far from a sure thing, but if the Dixie Chicks can scrape up enough dough to pay Crow at least a 100 dollars a show and agree to let her sell T shirts in the parking lot - it'll be a done deal.

Sep 11, 2013 10:54AM
This may come across as negative at first-but if you're a SC fan please read the whole comment before you post a knee-jerk reaction. To me, her pop music attempts have always felt forced, like she was the one tryingto conform. I never could put my finger on what, to me, was not authentic about her sound, until I found out more about her background. She was a music teacher. She sang back up for artists from MJ to Don Henley. Her voice sounded too strained and affected for someone with that type of legitimate training. Then listen to her sing on wildly-different numbers like Cole Porter's Begin the Beguine. THAT'S her real sound. And that voice lends itself much much more fluidly to the country music that has produced the likes of WIlie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris, Loretta Lynn, Lyle Lovett and Kelly Willis.
Sep 11, 2013 10:04AM

What a rude comment.  Nashville LOVES Sheryl Crow and all of our diverse community or artists.  Sounds as though you may not be SMART enough to listen to her and appreciate her music.

Sep 11, 2013 8:19AM
Nashville doesn't want her or her liberal politics. She's just flailing around trying find an audience dumb enough to listen. 

After her attempt at Nashville fizzles, watch for her to try her hand at calypso and klezmer music next,...... 'ragtime' can't be too far off from there.

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