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A very solid "country" album, and not that far from what Crow was doing in the first place
on 11 September 2013
"Feels Like Home" is Sheryl Crow "going country". Going country for a pop/rock artist can mean one of two things. Either the artist's career is sagging and wants to tap into a new audience, or the country direction is simply enough facet of the artist in question. Unlike Bon Jovi (who is about as country as Motley Crue), with Sheryl Crow, she clearly demonstrates the later. Sheryl enlisted some big Nashville guns for this project as collaborators: Chris DuBois, Luke Laird, Shane McAnally, Brad Paisley. Her music as always is well-polished.
If you believe her title (and I believe you should), she feels quite at home in her country trappings, as well she should. Of all the major female artists of the 1990s, Sheryl Crow is the closest to country-rock. Her debut, Tuesday Night Music Club, could just as easily have been labelled as country-rock. (Listen to "Nobody Said It Would Be Easy" and don't tell me that that song could easily have been recorded for a country project.) Liz Phair, with "Exile in Guyville", would be the closest contender to a country-rock artist of the 1990s, although her subsequent albums give the feeling that "Exile" was more of an anomaly in her catalogue than anything else.
While "Feels Like Home" may have some great, killer hooks, there is a lot of substance behind that flashy production. Crow manages to tap into the emotionally charged, honesty-driven story-telling that vast amounts of people can relate to on a very real level which always distinguishes the best of country music, all the while retaining her pop sensibilities that made her such a star in the first place.
That's not to say "Feels Like Home" is perfect. The only time the album really gets off kilter is when Crow comes off as trying too hard to be country. Thankfully, this is few an far between. Her twang sounds affected on "Crazy Ain't Original" and "We Oughtta Be Drinkin". Also, the later song, along with the lead single "Easy", appear to be little more than heavy-handed bids for radioplay. A couple of the tracks also get rather heavy handed in terms of social commentary.
"Homecoming Queen" perfectly encapsultates modern country music all the while retaining Crow's musical identity and sense of style. The great confessional "Homesick" would have been at home on any of her early records, and sounds akin to "The Difficult Kind". "Nobody's Business" and "Best of Times" could easily have been placed on any of her records and no one would be any the wiser.
Another track, "Waterproof Mascara", goes further back into country's roots that most contemporary country does, and would have been at home on an early Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton record. Lines like ""Thank God they make waterproof mascara/'Cause it won't run like his Daddy did," is much more akin to classic country from the 1960s-1980s then anything Nashville is producing now. Unlike "Crazy", "Easy," and "We Oughtta Be Drinkin'", Crow makes "Waterproof Mascara" her own, even though it's the biggest example of Crow turning in her pop-star cred for a cowboy hat and boots. She really gets into the emotional center of that song. "Waterproof Mascara" could easily have been just another caricature of a typical country song; as it stands, that song is one of the album's highlights.
Other times, though, she taps into some relatable, blue-collar cliches that come off as rather condescending. Unlike Bruce Springsteen, who could really nail the trials and tribulations of the working class and sound deeply authentic, when you hear Crow sing about being a poor, white trash country girl, you have a hard time believing that. These moments represent the album's biggest stumbling blocks. Sheryl Crow has always had an air of the cosmopolitan about her, which in the country market is closest akin to The Dixie Chicks. They ditched their original lead singer, drafted Natalie, renamed themselves The Dixie Chicks from the Dixie Chickens, and the rest is history. Their type of audience is much more likely to be coffee-house types than the deeply redneck, shot-gun toting stereotypical white trash. Likewise, Sheryl's music feels more at home on a high class café with a hundred different wines and cheeses than a country bar with the Confederate Flag on prominent display.
Despite the sometimes effected twang and occasional self-conscious "Look at Me, I'm doig Country!" song , "Feels Like Home" could just as have easily been a followup to "The Globe Sessions" or "C'Mon, C'Mon".
Crow has always had a lot of similarities with the country genre, even with her pop sensibilities. Unlike "100 Miles to Memphis" and its emphasis on soul, "Feels Like Home" never feels simply like a genre experiment. Too her immense credit, "Feels Like Home" sounds like a natural extension of who Sheryl is as an artist and only seldomly feels forced.