MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 50: SHERYL CROW

‘…sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened if I listened to great bands and songs, and the great albums from said bands, when they actually released, rather than all these years later. How would my music tastes have changed- or would they have stayed the same? How would my outlook on life be, would I be more of an extrovert or an introvert, would my values change or would I still be in the same profession that I am currently in? I know, weird questions, but I truly believe that music and the song that can impact and encourage, influence and challenge; can really change a trajectory of someone depending on when they hear it in their lives. And at a certain point, a song can be a catalyst for change, personal or as a collective, to be something better, to look inward and see what needs to realign and refocus, or what values that is held close, need to be reassessed, and which need to still stay the same. So to answer my own question that I posed earlier…I don’t really know what would’ve happened if I did listen to artists when their respective albums released. I mean, had I did listen to artists like Avril Lavigne, Ronan Keating, U2, Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, even Owl City and Lifehouse, during the times when albums of these said artists released; maybe, just maybe, the wonder and awe, and the unique feeling that comes when discovering a whole discography of a new artist, could be less and less. Because essentially if you follow an artist’s career from year dot, you become accustomed to their music your whole life, as opposed to someone else discovering for the first time a whole discography of an artist they’ve missed out on…’

‘…mainstream music for me has always taken a bit of a back seat throughout my life, and it was only when I heavily invested my time and my intrigue and interest into this blog series that I started to undertake last year, that I truly understood that there was a lot of mainstream music out there that I was missing. That mainstream music was just another avenue of music that God can and does use for Himself to be revealed in our lives whenever we hear the music, either currently of now, or of the years gone by of yesteryear. As I’m about to undertake blog post #40 this week, I have reflected upon the artists I’ve delved into thus far: Delta Goodrem, Lifehouse, Sara Bareilles, Ronan Keating, Owl City, Martina McBride, U2, The McClymonts, Shania Twain, Ed Sheeran, Rascal Flatts, Evanescence, OneRepublic, Tina Arena and Daughtry, to name a few; have all had impacting and influential careers in music over the years. And all of them have been instrumental in the reshaping of my own views of mainstream music since my discoveries of this wide array of music from last year onward. And, all these artists aforementioned are under the label or category of ‘mainstream’ music, or just music that isn’t Christian, or ‘religious’ in any way. And maybe, just maybe, mainstream music doesn’t have to be as bad as I myself originally thought it was back in high school. It was only last year that I was stretched in my understanding and comprehension of what good music really looked like, and that it was ok for me to enjoy music that wasn’t Christian in any way, and that God Himself could move if He wanted to, speaking to me through the unlikeliest of sources, even mainstream music. And that’s ok! …’

It is in these quotes above, introductions to previous blog posts I’ve written in the past (the first being the intro paragraph to indie rockers Train, and the second pertaining to the blog of Mandy Moore), that I’ve come to realise that mainstream music isn’t as bad as what we as humans, or we as maybe even Christians, have initially thought. I’ve tried to come up with a great introduction to this blog post I’m about to embark upon, yet for a few minutes now, nothing seemed to stick. My brain cells were turned off. Nevertheless, I had a thought- wouldn’t it be nice to be reminded of some of my blog posts of last year, and be encouraged in the fact that what I wrote about music then, still applies in May 2020 now- and herein lies the point. Sometimes all I can do, if I can’t start off my blog well, is to in fact quote- either from someone else, or in this case, a quote from myself in a blog previous…and that’s ok. I’ve come to realise that my hardest part of any blog post was always the introduction, and then once I got that out of the way, it was smooth sailing from there…well, kinda. Each blog posed its challenges- Lecrae was in the realms of rap, a genre that I myself wasn’t too familiar with, while One Direction’s teen boy-band pop was something I myself wasn’t really that into, or accustomed to. Pentatonix’s acapella was something that I enjoyed, but because most of their discography was mainly covers, to write a structured blog on their influence to society as a whole was a seemingly difficult stretch, while hard-rock enthusiasts Evanescence just didn’t click with me at all- thus their blog post wasn’t filled with a passion within myself as I was writing it, compared to other artists. Each artist has their own musical focus, and for this one coming up, to commemorate my 50th blog post (half-way there…phew!!!), I was challenged in encouraged, reminded and compelled, that artists like this one don’t come around that often.

Sheryl Crow, singer-songwriter/pop/rock/country/folk/acoustic/blues/Americana artist (wow, that’s a lot of musical genres this particular one has dipped their toes into!) is a revelation in and of themselves. Sheryl’s been at the music business for quite some time- since the early-mid 1990s, and while it was only last year that I really in fact heard her music (I mean, I did catch a glimpse of her music on the CW/WB TV show One Tree Hill when she appeared as herself and performed ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’ on one of the episodes back in the day); what this artist has accomplished throughout her time is a sense of being true to yourself, to create music that is a little left-field, that doesn’t fit into a box, music that when it comes down to it, can fit in a variety of musical styles and that’s ok. For Sheryl has been at it for a while, and her ability to change between singer-songwriter, folk, acoustic, Americana, Country and the traditionalist styles of pop and rock, is nothing short of miraculous, exemplary, impressive and a challenge to aspiring musicians out there, to stretch beyond themselves and embark on a musical journey that is wild, unique, different and a little bit crazier than the average-joe music career by a lot of current pop radio trends at the moment. Sheryl’s music doesn’t fit into a box; and listening to her this last week or so (and other artists previously that have challenged the mould of what a certain particular artist with a certain stylistic leaning should sound like!), I am pleased to get to know the music of such an underrated artist of her generation. With her latest 2019 album Threads being her last full-album release ever, it is a reminder that artists come and go, and that no good thing will indeed last forever.

Sheryl’s music, as funky, soul, Americana and alternative as it was when albums were releasing at the ready; we are reminded that it is often the quirky, the unique, the different, the artist-that-doesn’t-fit-into-a-box, it is those qualities that make an artist influential for a generation yearning for something more than just the continual sameness of radio that is given to the masses year upon year, upon year. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again- I’ve listened to a fair amount of artists over the last year or so, and I’ve often found myself gravitating to artists who have more of a seasoned discography than artists starting out- mainly because the veterans, for lack of a better word, know what they’re doing- they have a sense of self that is not tied down by success or fame that a lot of the newer artists seemed to get sucked into. Yes, I’m sure every artist in their life gets ‘seduced’ by the fame and fortune and money. But somewhere along the way, you build up a reputation for yourself, you discover your sound and what you want to say to people, what your viewpoints are, and then after you’ve formed what you want to impact people and challenge people on; after that, everything else doesn’t faze you. Sheryl’s music challenges people on a soul-level, and I know I’ve only heard her music for about a week, but sometimes a week is all what is needed for good music to be discovered.

From her humble beginnings in the 1990s (1993 to be precise) with her unveiling of her debut (and still to this day, her most impactful and popular album, and maybe even her most cohesive and challenging) Tuesday Night Music Club, to her summer-filled and joyous record C’mon, C’mon, her Memphis-soul/blues release 100 Miles From Memphis, her country-inspired Feels Like Home and her all-duet last album Threads (to name a few); Sheryl’s heartfelt music has challenged us all to open our eyes wider to appreciate music however it comes from the artist. Whether they release something that may not be on our initial radar or not, is something that we need to work on as a people who love music, because though we’re so used to an artist releasing music in their own particular genre that we’ve assumed for them to stay in for their whole tenure as an artist (when in fact they can create music from a wide array of musical genres at their disposal), often it is the artists that stretch what they’re capable of and create something that isn’t the norm; that really impact people in the long run. Sheryl’s music has been a breath of fresh air in an industry right now that is begging for some ingenuity and something that isn’t ‘comfortable’. Yes, her age may be the other side of 50 (as we’re so often told by a lot of people that once someone ages over 50, their relevance in an industry so fickle, seems to go down and down even further!), but her enthusiasm, joy, her sense of self and her ability to create music that is compelling but still fun; is still indeed there. Sheryl has indeed shown us that vocals very much stay the same throughout someone’s life, and that age, frankly is just a number- if you still have the power to impart wisdom, hope, compassion and a different way of doing things, into the younger generation, then your job isn’t done just yet.

‘…who remembers video stores? You know, the stores that stock new release videos tapes (the ones that are clunky and take up heaps of space in your cabinet) and DVD’s? The ones where you travel to on a Friday night and hire movies for a few days (or a week) and you and a group of friends watch (or even binge-watch) movies from 6pm til the wee hours of the next morning? I can still remember when the neighbourhood I’ve grown up in for my whole life had two stores like these, where our family (mum, dad, and my brother Josh) often congregated every school holidays- and our bargaining quest began as we picked our favourite movies and asked our parents whether or not we’d be able to pick the films we wanted for the duration of the hire. Not only watching the movie was a great moment, but choosing the film was a great art too- the way every member of our family stated their case about why they wanted a certain movie within the selection to be hired on a particular day was a great way for our family to bond, and improve our communication and debating skills with each other. Nowadays when you look around society, the only places where you can hire videos (or dvds as the VCR and its technology has become redundant) for a certain period of time are the kiosk automated boxes. Rarely would you see a video store now- in fact, the two places that were video stores during my childhood have now turned into a liquor store and a cake shop respectively. While this post is not a whinging moment for me to say ‘how I wished there were more video stores so that could serve my nostalgia’; I do want to make a comment- that the world of technology is changing so that access to digital media is becoming more readily available to a wider amount of people. With many viewers of movies and television searching online for their material, the use of video stores have sadly come to an end (even though you can still find video stores now and again). While I am sad that this era has met a sad but necessary ending, I do cherish and remember fondly the times I had with my family as we hired dvds and movies from the store, walking and having exercise as well…’

I know this blog above pertains and relates to video stores and their slow and gradual demise out of existence, but one thing is true about this post above that I’ve quoted, that I indeed wrote way back in 2014- the existence of digital media is fast becoming a reality that traditionalists and people who don’t want to change, can’t seem to get away from. There’s no more cathode ray tube TV’s for sale. In fact, I don’t think there are any VCRs, DVD Players (I guess only Blu-Ray players are being sold), Nintendo 64’s, even Wiis, X-Box’s, or even desktop computers (I may be wrong, but the local JB Hi Fi that I frequent, I can’t seem to find a desktop computer for sale); being sold anymore. And as much as we would love to mourn the loss of this technology, we must remember that times change. And this is my point that I’m going to go towards- CD’s, sad to say, are going to be on that list soon, whether we like it or not. The art of the traditional album and its release is going to change, purely on the basis of Spotify and people’s readiness not to listen to an album from start to finish, but to cherry-pick songs, only listen to ‘singles’/popular tracks, and to place them on their curated playlists, and never check out that album release again. Sad? Most definitely. Consumeristic? Most certainly. The wonder and awe of listening to an album, and the journey that the artist took in creating the body of work, gone? Quite possibly. We are reminded maybe even on a daily basis that technology at the end of the year will be drastically different to technology at the beginning. And maybe it’s just be that is sentimental about CD’s, but I’ve come to realise that as I read a few quotes and interviews from Sheryl Crow herself, that I’m not the only one in the world who can conclude that the day that CD’s, albums and the like come to a finite end, would be a day of mourning. Because it will be. And maybe I’m more old-school in my thinking about things than I realise. And that’s ok. I’ve come to understand and appreciate the finer things in life- the reading of the liner notes in an album cover, listening from start to finish, as an album tells a story that the artist intends to bring to the fore. And in this quote below, it is a reminder that as I’ve said above, all good things run its course, for lack of a better word. It is in these two quotes below by Sheryl, in two separate interviews; that I’ve continued to appreciate her influence to society, not just music- as we’re reminded to always hold onto things that bring to us nostalgia, and to remind ourselves that often newer, flashier things aren’t necessarily better or greater. Whether albums will exist in physical format or in digital format in the future, one thing still remains to be true- that the album as it stands right now still has its place- it is there for people to realise that the journey of taking an album experience can do much more to the soul than to pick out songs here and there for consumeristic enjoyment, something that will unfortunately fade away in the end!

‘…I love making records, I’ve loved producing my records, I’ve loved producing other people. I grew up holding records, and studying them, and sharing them with my friends, and dropping the needle and all that stuff. But making a record is not only time-consuming and expensive, it’s emotional. And when you’re a songwriter and you’ve spent all this time compiling a body of work — you know, it’s part of the arc of a record, but when people listen to it, they’re just going to cherry-pick songs, they’re going to put it on playlist, they won’t download the whole record, they probably won’t even own that whole record. They’ll just hear certain songs. It’s a little counterintuitive to want to spend that time making a full artistic statement that no one’s ever going to hear as an artistic statement. So I love that this is my last full artistic statement and I love that it’s sort of, I don’t know, it’s kind of retracing my history through all my threads. But I also love the idea of just being able to put out a song and not have to wait for a whole album’s worth of work to follow it. Never say never, but I think it might be the last record…’

‘…you spend a lot of time, emotion and money creating a body of work that you hope has a journey through it—a beginning, a middle and an end—and people are not going to hear it that way. In fact, they may only hear one song off of it, if you’re lucky—and it just seems archaic at this point, to me. It would be like me writing a tweet, and then holding on to it until next year, when I have 16 tweets to put out. And, by the time I put it out, it’s not going to matter to anybody anyway; it’s not going to be relevant. I feel that way because I’ve had the luxury of growing up with albums. I’ve also had the luxury of making albums, and basing a career on not just the pop hits but also the album cuts, so it feels necessary for me to put that away—and to not mourn the loss of that, but to celebrate it with this album…’

Sheryl started off her music career in 1993 with the unveiling of Tuesday Night Music Club, but prior to her chance at stardom, Sheryl was just a girl from rural Missouri, who graduated from the University of Missouri in a degree in classical music in 1984. It is when we see such a music star, bring about their humble beginnings through the way of being a music teacher in an elementary school in St. Louis prior to her own music career, we are reminded that the people who we so highly regard as being more ‘all-together’ than us all (because of their platform they have established because of said stardom) are just mere people like you and me. Mind you, if you get thrusted into stardom at a young age, you may not know how the general population is like and to even relate to the common-folk who toil every day in a 9-5 job; but more often than not, you do come across a music artist that has toiled hard before entering the music industry. Sheryl’s first introduction to music in the form of her first album, was when she was 31. Prior to that she was a backup singer for Michael Jackson on his BAD Tour, alongside being a backup singer for George Harrison and Rod Stewart on their tours during the 1980s. It is a reminder that often in an industry that can be very unforgiving, hard work needs to be instilled in people if they want to make a mark on an industry (and a people) that are indeed so fickle, flippant and indecisive. Nevertheless, Sheryl’s previous work prior to album-releasing makes her a much more relatable artist, someone who understands in some way, the difficulties of hard-working life. A lot of her music from her debut album was reflective of the time period prior to 1993, her time hustling and working real hard, in industries that may not have been her preferred, but still necessary for her to move into being an artist, in which she still is today.

‘Run Baby Run’, the first song from Tuesday Night Music Club, speaks of a persona born in the 1960s, who was influenced by the works of Aldous Huxley, and being caught in the middle of a conservative social structure and landscape, and her parent’s beliefs- the dad was a political activist while the mum was a hippie. The persona in the song therefore had a tendency to run away from issues and problems before it got too hard to reconcile difference of views and opinions, while we are to assume that this persona and how they’re feeling is based upon just one of many, many people who grew up during a time period where different views were coming into view, and no one knew whether to hold onto traditionalist understandings (often not knowing why they were believing in the first place), or to seek out new ideas, understandings and belief systems for themselves. While the song tells of the general uncertain nature of either conforming to your own personal view, or to explore something different to broaden your understanding; the song nevertheless is a reminder that we as humans right now in 2020 are still feeling the effects of ‘Run Baby Run’- views are popping up left right and centre, and if we don’t know why we believe what we believe, then all we’re just going to do is get tossed by the wind- something that we know we don’t want to become. Sheryl’s songs mostly have real-world applications, and ‘Run Baby Run’ is just one of many tracks that challenge our own hearts and try to crumble the status quo, both at once.

‘What I Can Do For You’ is a song that actually made my own skin crawl and made me feel yuck inside, and according to the subject matter of the track, that’s exactly what the track aims in terms of getting such a response from listeners. While the song is presented musically with an acoustical framework and a swaying beat (seems innocent enough, right?), but topic of the song is something that people don’t necessarily discuss that much in general- sexual harassment. With the song itself sung from the POV of the predator, saying to the up-and-coming musician that what they have to offer them is helping their career (in exchange for…you know what!); we are nevertheless reminded that this untold horrific act often done in the music industry, I’m sure is still alive and well today as it was back in 1993- this song can hopefully open our eyes to such an industry we may often be ignorant about, as we’re reminded that people who make it in such an industry may not often like the things they have done to get them there. ‘All I Wanna Do’ is a joyous little pop jingle as we see Sheryl impart the seemingly ‘hedonistic’ lyrics of ‘…all I wanna do is have some fun, and I gotta feeling, that I’m not the only one…’; but as we look a little deeper, we see that there is still indeed purpose in this. ‘All I Wanna Do’, as materialistic and hedonistic as it may seem, still has an innocent message at heart- to enjoy life, to not be too worried or stuck up about work, to have fun, because in a society that is always constantly on the go or being busy just because; we’ve lost the joy and fun of it all- we’ve become people that are stressed, sad, worried, just not enjoying life to what was initially intended. ‘All I Wanna Do’ wants to recapture that particular feeling that was first one of the reasons why we may have entered into such a particular line of work in the first place. ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ is perhaps one of Sheryl’s most meaningful songs- you can read all about the stories behind it here on Songfacts– but for a song to be from the title of a book by an author who as an alcoholic (and the story of the book was about an alcoholic who essentially drinks himself to death in Las Vegas), is pretty heavy stuff. A lot of metaphors and imagery, I am reminded that such a song as this can hopefully be impetus for change- leaving Las Vegas is symbolic of leaving the drink behind (or any other vice you often find yourself attached to), as we’re reminded that even during the highest of heights in the peak of someone’s career in whatever field, they could still be feeling depressed and plagued by certain issues in life. The song was also a metaphor for the glitzy city of Los Angeles- and how we are reminded that people often move to L.A. to ‘make it big’- with all the hype that comes around moving to America to create a name for yourself is practically the capital of music (not country music, which is Nashville, but music!). Often that doesn’t always pan out the way we hope it did- disillusionment sets in, and ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ is a reminder of people who are trapped in the perfect ‘sheen’ of fame, need to leave that lifestyle ASAP- sometimes fame and money and fortune can turn you into something you know you don’t want to be, but realise it’s too late to change if immersed in the culture for too long.

Tuesday Night Music Club also gives to us songs like ‘Strong Enough’ and ‘I Shall Believe’- the former being a melody with the persona frustrated in relationships and asking the pertinent question of whether they are ‘strong enough to be my man’ while the latter is a hopeful and heartfelt prayer, as the persona reminds me so much of how maybe the prodigal son may have felt- or how the prostitute who was washing Jesus’ feet must’ve felt, when they realised they did thing wrong and wanted to come back and be redeemed and made right, to move from a life of destruction to a life of belief and wanting situations to become better. ‘I Shall Believe’ is a reminder for us that God Himself doesn’t give up on us even if we believe that He does (or if we do give up on ourselves for whatever reason)- the song is solemn and by far is one of Sheryl’s most spiritual songs. And whether or not Sheryl herself is a ‘spiritual’ or a ‘religious’ person remains to be seen, but the fact of the matter remains- that ‘I Shall Believe’ anchors a great album that is well deserving of all its accolades. Themes and messages of sexual assault, leaving a lifestyle behind because its detrimental to you, believing when circumstances and situations tell us otherwise, wanting someone to be strong for us when we can’t…these are all universal themes that we need to hear about, and the beauty that these melodies in 1993 can still impact and change people’s lives even now, shows us that some artists and songs transcend the test of time, and are indeed timeless for people to grab hold of and apply meaning to it based upon situations in their own lives. Sheryl Crow is one such artist that has created songs like this- and Tuesday Night Music Club is such an album that has become a standout of mine amongst the many albums from artists I’ve heard within the past year- up with the best from artists like Train (Save Me San Francisco), Tina Arena (Don’t Ask), Daughtry (Daughtry) and Bryan Adams (Wake Up the Neighbours), to name a few.

Throughout her music career, we have been blessed to hear songs that have taken us from a life of mediocrity to a place of reflection, introspection and contemplation as a lot of these tracks have opened up to us issues that we may not have become privy to had we not heard these songs in the first place. ‘Soak Up the Sun’ is such a sunny, joyous and positive melody, shown through its carefree lyrics about not having the things we want but rather wanting the things we have; as this song that showcases a sunny outdoors-y Beach Boys-esque music video, reminds us of appreciation and just enjoying the simpler things in life. It is when we don’t worry about materialistic things but to be focused on being thankful for what we do have, as we understand through the lyrics that ‘…I don’t have digital, I don’t have diddly squat, it’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got…’ then we can really live without stress; while ‘My Favourite Mistake’, from Sheryl’s third album The Globe Sessions, is a song that though not about one particular guy in Sheryl’s life, is nevertheless about a composite of guys where she dated them and they weren’t right for her, for one reason or another. The title ‘My Favourite Mistake’ is a reminder that often the things we think are the mistakes in our lives, are in fact the things that will shape us, mould us, grow us, and allow us to learn things we may not have, had we not been in the relationship in the first place- deeming a mistake being something that is a ‘favourite’, can seem a little jarring and confusing, but then when we look deeper, we’re reminded that as soon as we can see that every mistake we’ve made is just another opportunity for us to build our character, resilience and our way of remaining on what has been central and a foundation to our own beliefs; then said mistake is a good thing to occur in our lives.

‘The First Cut is the Deepest’, a song by Cat Stevens recorded way back in the 1960s, was given the Sheryl Crow treatment back in 2003, in time for a best-of album collection, as such a song that was popular in the 1960s still has relevance even now. The persona declares that they want to fall in love, but are still wounded by a past hurt in a previous relationship, and reminds us listeners that ‘the first cut is the deepest’, that though I’m sure not a physical cut, but rather the emotional and verbal hurt that can occur from relationships, cut deeper than we realise, and that first-time breakups for anyone are often the hardest compared to anything subsequent. ‘Everyday is a Winding Road’, from Sheryl’s self-titled second album, speaks of how life can have its twists and turns, to enjoy the ride and to be in excitement and anticipation as to where the journey (and the Lord) takes us when it comes to learning and growing from all the twists and turns that make up this craziness of a life- or as Sheryl relays it herself, ‘…it really wound up being about being in the moment and not always looking to the next moment and analysing things…every once in a while, I have to catch myself and remind myself that life is right now. It’s not two minutes from now…’; while ‘If It Makes You Happy’, speaks about how often in life, no matter how much we try to make ourselves happy and do the things that excite us, we can still feel sad for reasons unknown. Maybe the thing we’re doing in our lives, isn’t really the thing that makes us happy, or we understand and realise that just doing happy things doesn’t mean we have fulfillment- if they’re done and accomplished when we’re on our own, then having these things don’t matter if we don’t have anyone to share them with.

‘C’mon, C’mon’, the title track of Sheryl’s 4th album, is a song about indecision, especially being indecisive about ending a relationship that people know (maybe inclusive of the persona) is ending for quite some time. The urgency and fervent necessity of the words ‘c’mon, c’mon’ requires a sense of certainty from who the persona is declaring the words to, as we’re reminded through this bouncy (yet simultaneously declaratory and demanding) track that we as listeners often need to make certain decisions relating to our lives on a quick basis- this track by Sheryl can hopefully encourage us to not pussy-foot around and make hard, bold, and necessary decisions so that people involved in such decision making can move on quickly with their lives. Sheryl also imparts to us the rocker (full of hand claps and strong electric-acoustic guitar) of a song ‘A Change Will Do You Good’, a song that gives us a much-needed reminder that often a change in our lives, as crazy or as sea-change-esque it can seem, is often what is needed for perspectives to change, and for reflection and self-realisation to occur; while ‘Home’, from Sheryl’s self-titled second album, speaks of this theme of needing to define what the word ‘home’ means to people- in the song, it encompasses all the good and the bad, the joyous and the sorrowful, the places of triumph and the place of despair, as when we include all these things, we understand that often transformation occurs within the messy, and home rather isn’t a place, but rather who we are with and who lifts us up when the difficult things in our lives indeed occur. ‘Redemption Day’ (re-recorded again as a ‘duet’ in 2019 between Sheryl and the late great, Johnny Cash), is again another ‘spiritual’, ‘religious’ or dare I say ‘redemptive’ song, as Sheryl herself longs for a day where justice will come for all the suffering in the world; with the song being a call for peace and a longing for freedom and taking care of our fellow man as such a song as ‘Redemption Day’, alongside ‘I Shall Believe’, become the spiritual cornerstones of Sheryl’s poignant and powerful music career. ‘Hard to Make a Stand’, from Sheryl’s second album, is in fact about that- trying to make sense of a world that is standing for all different things, with you yourself trapped in the middle finding it difficult to even decide what the stand for; while ‘Steve McQueen’ is an ode and a homage to the movie star, with the music video to the corresponding song being filmed via recreating scenes from popular Steve McQueen movies, a reminder that such a legend as he was back then still has a great impact to film, media, music and cinema, even now. ‘Let’s Get Free’, an iTunes exclusive to the 2002 album C’mon, C’mon, encourages people to be free of the mindless mundane things that are happening all around them, as we understand that the more we understand the more we are less likely to believe in things that we see and hear without question.

If there is one thing that I’m sure people can agree upon, it’s that Sheryl’s initial music career, embodying her first few albums (Tuesday Night Music Club, Sheryl Crow, The Globe Sessions and C’mon, C’mon) are some of the most emotive and heartfelt albums of her whole career, a reminder that often songs that have been birthed to an artist initially and within their first few years can still stand the test of time, even years later. A Best Of album was released by Sheryl in 2003, that featured new cuts and recordings ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’ and ‘Light in Your Eyes’ (a track that once again toyed with a spiritual aspect, as Sheryl powerfully reminded us that we should all ‘talk to the one who made you’, that One who gave us either literally or figuratively the ‘light in your eyes’), alongside other standout songs from earlier in her career, featuring some of the songs aforementioned in this blog. Sheryl then went on to release several other albums, to varying degrees of success- Wildflower and Detours in 2005 and 2008 respectively, both leaned to the pop-rock vein, whilst 100 Miles from Memphis and Feels Like Home both ventured into new territory for Sheryl- soul/blues and country respectively. Add into the mix a collection of Christmas songs, a 2019 all-duet last album, alongside the 2017 ‘forgotten’ album Be Myself that brought her back to her rock roots; Sheryl’s later career still has had many turns and dips, twists and songs that have resonated more than others, in years of music that has reminded us all that artists that have the most impact on music and society as a whole; often try and experiment on things (often to varying degrees of success), allowing other people permission to also experiment and try new things with their lives, also.

‘Make It Go Away’ is a standout song on Detours even though it was never a radio single- it features the persona going through some difficult trial- quite possibly cancer, and asking the question of when and whether it will go away, and how to make it so. The song was inspired by Sheryl’s own breast cancer journey during the mid-2000s, and her uncertainty and worry was a part of her during that time; while a song also dear to Sheryl’s heart, as much as ‘Make It Go Away’, is ‘Always on Your Side’. The radio version features Sting from The Police, and the song itself is a hauntingly compelling song about what happens after a break-up, to all the promises that were neatly and swiftly said to each other, in hopes that they will be kept? ‘Always on Your Side’ is a song of lament, of missed opportunities and realising that both sides of the relationship are at fault- it’s never black and white with relationships, and people always need to give and take. ‘Letter To God’ is a personal song of questions and asking, as Sheryl wonders what happens beyond the grave and that ‘…I’ll be sending a letter to God to know where will I go when I’m gone and what if everyone is wrong…’; while songs like ‘Good is Good’, ‘Love is Free’, ‘Now That You’re Gone’, ‘Shine Over Babylon’ and ‘Out of Our Heads’ stand out for me personally (and are oddly enough the singles promoted at radio around that particular time), associated with the albums Detours and Wildflower. ‘Good is Good’ is a song that speaks of how sometimes in someone’s life, good and bad can be seen on the surface as being the other- that good things can be disguised on the surface level as being things that we initially assume to be bad for us, and vice versa. The song is a call for us to hopefully want to experience both good and bad things, because in the end through this wonderful thing called hindsight, we look back and see God Himself moving and shaping our lives through the circumstances- good and bad, in our lives- nothing is wasted as far as God is concerned. ‘Love Is Free’ is a prominently acoustic song that channels a lot of the hippie-style era, as the song itself, as a response to the New Orleans flood disaster in 2005, is a reminder that giving love and receiving it doesn’t require a cost- to give love to others doesn’t leave you without, it actually enrichens your life as you see the joy and love given from yourself to the other; while ‘Now That You’re Gone’, a song similar thematically to Kelly Clarkson’s early hit ‘Since U Been Gone’, is a much more mature, level-headed melody speaking of a similar theme- that after someone who has been destructive in our life leaves, we see how much hold they may have had on us without us even knowing- the poignant lyrics of the chorus impart to the listener, that ‘…now that you’re gone, I can breathe, now that you’re gone, I am free…’

‘Out of our Heads’ is a politicised song (nothing wrong with that), addressing this notion and theme that the bulk of all the violence, hate speech, and verbal stoushes with other people are caused by a level of misunderstanding of the other person, or the assumption of hate based upon what we have been taught and have learnt from generations previous to us. This tag-line of getting out of our heads and into our hearts, is a reminder to stop thinking within what we assume to be true about the other, and to really get to know them and commune with people different from ourselves- then we can get along with all our differences and love people different from ourselves, even if the love we give them isn’t reciprocated to us. Sheryl also imparts to us another political-like melody in ‘Shine over Babylon’, a track where Sheryl lays out all her frustrations with what she sees in the world, touching on topics like greed, power, over-reliance on religion and hiding behind corporations instead of getting out there and helping the people where they’re at. I don’t think many people even in today’s music culture has ever created music that has challenged and impacted people in a way that a lot of Sheryl Crow music has done (aside from artists of yesteryear like U2)- which is a little sad, considering that a lot of music nowadays is just a little fluff here and there, enough to take the artist to the top of the radio charts, but not enough to make them have a lasting impact on music and society once they’ve reached the peak themselves.

Sheryl herself deviated from her rock/folk atmosphere in a lot of her earlier albums to deliver these next two- 2010’s 100 Miles from Memphis, and 2013’s Feels Like Home– touching upon the genres and music styles of blues/Motown/Memphis soul and country respectively; and while for me I didn’t really feel as much connected to these albums holistically compared to her previous few, there were still songs that were standouts and tracks that really made people think about issues of today. Reggae-filled ‘Eye to Eye’, featuring the Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, speaks of this issue of togetherness and ‘turning’ the other cheek, a reminder that a response of love, respect and dignity will always go further and be more receptive by the other, than the way of hurt upon hurt upon hurt, and reminds myself personally of the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew in the Bible; while first single on 100 Miles From Memphis ‘Summer Day’ delivers a great summer-y feel and a joyous atmosphere as we embark on the theme of a love that the persona longs for- love that lasts for the ages, rather than a short-lived love that fizzles out at the first hurdle.

‘Stop’, a reflective ballad on this 2010 album, is another personal song for Sheryl, as she uses this melody as a way of reminding us all to stop once in a while in our lives, to not let the pace of life mean that we have to always be busy- ‘…that one is really a plea to make everything quit going so fast. Life has reached this epic point of being out of control. There’s so much chaos everywhere you look. And especially when you have a little kid, you just want to protect the people you love from all that pain…’; while ‘Long Road Home’ really hits to the heart of the hypocrisy often seen by people who profess to be Christians, changed by God and planted into the faith, but in reality what is actually seen is that these people’s hearts, maybe intentionally or not, are far away from the Lord. Written by Sheryl herself, and maybe as a way of writing down what she has seen both inside and outside of the church, we’re reminded that to be authentic in what we believe is the only way to convince and show other people that what we’re really believing in is actually taking seed in our lives and is really changing us, rather than the ‘…songs or glory sung in hate…’ that can be seen by a lot of people today, through the condemnation and judgement, by them, to others who are different. Covers are also brought to us in 100 Miles from Memphis– the two that really stood out for me are ‘I Want You Back’ by the Jackson 5, and ‘Sign Your Name’ (featuring pop legend Justin Timberlake) by lesser known artist Terence Trent D’Arby. Both these songs are great reminders that songs of yesteryear can still be brought to life in a new way via the avenue of covers. Sheryl herself has done a great job with these renditions, as both these tracks deliver a great amount of nostalgia as we think upon the great times of our youth, longing for simpler days where war, violence and our need to always be ‘right’ seem to plague our minds and become the very reasons why division and hurt occur.

Feels Like Home released in 2013, and while for me I felt that this album wasn’t the most organic from her, nor did I even believe that this style was actually suited to Sheryl at all (from a lot of her music previous, she was leaning more to rock/folk/Americana), alas, she released a country through-and-through, and while it did have a few ups, like first single ‘Shotgun’, a song that speaks of the longing to live life to the fullest and to ‘…drive it like it’s stolen, park like it’s rented, what’s the point of money if you ain’t gonna spend it…’ and tearjerker ‘Waterproof Mascara’, a heartfelt ballad co-written with Brad Paisley (and about the trials of being a single mum and a working mum in modern day America- or any other 1st world country across the globe); much of Feels Like Home sadly feels a little uninspired and a little lacking. Maybe it’s because I’ve heard a lot of Sheryl Crow previously- and that music isn’t country, I was a little taken off guard when it came to hear the songs on Feels Like Home. And herein lies the point. When an artist crafts their sound from the beginning, and then goes off on a tangent and creates something else, only for that something else to sound drastically similar to every other song of that particular genre out there, you start to wonder if the artist is just trying to ride with the trends, or if they genuinely really want to be within that new genre or not. And that is what I’ve felt about Sheryl’s new musical direction in Feels Like Home– not that country’s not bad. A lot of 1990s country is good- Shania Twain, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, even some of the later Keith Urban, The McClymonts and Carrie Underwood stuff is good too. But for an artist to come from a rock/folk background, and drop a country album that sounds like every other country album (released at that time), the messages behind the songs, no matter how genuine and sincere they really are, seems to be at a disconnect to the listener (like me). Nothing wrong with Sheryl as a musician, it’s just that for me Feels Like Home wasn’t her strongest album to date. Nevertheless, the album itself was a success- garnering a lot of positive reviews from critics, and selling very well in parts of the world like the U.K.; U.S. and Hungary.

Be Myself would have to be Sheryl’s most up-to-date and current album, not in terms of music and stylistic trends, but upon the themes spoken and what we need to contemplate and reflect upon. While a lot of music in her past, especially on the albums Wildflower and Detours alluding to righting the wrongs caused by environmental problems, a lot of topics and issues brought to the fore on Be Myself relate to living in a world of social media, technology, and our over-reliance on news read through the lens of fear rather than reporting only facts, not biased and from neither side. Politics can be a dangerous game; and Be Myself has a lot of songs that deal with the aftermath of what happens when politics has gone wrong on a global scale (i.e.: President Trump being elected to Parliament). With the album as a whole harkening and going back to her rock anthem roots of the 1990s era, ‘Halfway There’ is the sole single from the album, as we see Sheryl address the deep seeded division in America (and maybe even perhaps amongst a lot of Western nations across the world)- based upon politics and religion, the two biggest things that can divide a nation rather than bringing it together. As Sheryl herself relays about the stories behind the song, we can see that ‘…I’ve seen Nashville change a lot in the past 10 years that I’ve been here. The idea of the song is that even though you may drive a big Chevy truck and I drive my hybrid, or you may wear designer clothes and I wear ripped jeans, that doesn’t mean we don’t want the same things in life and the same things for our kids in the future. The message is we need to agree to disagree and just try and meet halfway there…even though we hadn’t voted in the US yet, I wrote it as a result of what was going on in the political campaign, the vitriol and dialogue among people in America. It’s a really scary time – I don’t even know who we are any more…’, a reminder that countries in the West, America specifically, has changed into something its people may not even recognise anymore.

‘Alone in the Dark’ speaks of the ease of how information can be sold on the internet, and that privacy in light of the digital and technological age, is often being violated at a cost and at the expense of a relationship; while ‘Heartbeat Away’ brings to the light this pertinent issue of corruption, extortion, and how money talks, and how deals, embezzlement, handshakes, and presidents being shady are things that this modern world has to unfortunately deal with, often on a regular basis when it comes to governments, cover-ups and things behind the scenes. ‘Woo Woo’ challenges our very notion of what today’s society sees as being an acceptable level of beauty and what it entails- the song addresses the shallowness of what young famous people around the world do to get this elusive beauty (showcasing their butts and their skin on camera and video), while also advocating in their subtle way that this is what the standard of true beauty is. ‘Woo Woo’ tells us that beauty is far from that- and as Sheryl herself relays, ‘…that’s what we’re projecting not only to our young girls but also to our young boys about what beauty is. It’s a very weird time. And then to turn around and say you’re a role model…’ It is when we realise that beauty comes from a confidence we have within ourselves rather than anything we do to our outsides, our insecurities regardless what people think about how we look, is going to decrease at a rapid rate.

‘Long Way Back’ gives us comfort in the fact that often in life, in certain situations and circumstances, it may feel like we’re miles away from who we want to be, and who we believe that God Himself has called us to be, both individually, as a nation, and as the world- but as I’ve been reflecting upon this particular song and what it means, not only for Sheryl as seen in the story-behind-the-song video below, but for me as well, I realise that in order to see what has been wrong with the whole picture all along, we need to take a step back and look at it first, without bias, but just looking at a picture and seeing what it really is. Often we are too close to issues- we argue this or that, we have passionate discussions bordering on arguments that remind us of the people we don’t want to be. ‘Long Way Back’, thematically similar to Steven Curtis Chapman’s ‘Long Way Home’, is indeed a journey that may take more time than we think, but ultimately, as we travel back, personally and collectively, to where we believe God wants us, we will become stronger and better for it, and remind ourselves that ‘…it’s gonna take some time to find a way to ease my mind, it’s gonna take the long way back home…’ Lastly, both songs ‘Be Myself’ and ‘Roller Skate’ both apply to this issue of heavily relying on technology, and wanting to have a life that is worth it- but only through the lens and the focal point of social media. We worry about our image online more often than we should, and we spend our lives more with ‘online’ people than the real relationships we need to cultivate with people in front of us. Both these two songs attest to the fact that we need to find and reclaim our identity, before social media and the internet steal it away, maybe for good. To be ourselves means to find who we were to begin with, and to understand that to imitate someone else is to be a second-rate copy rather than the original. Often our reliance on our phones and on the internet means that our skills at talking to the other seem to dwindle rapidly, until we don’t know how to handle real-life conversations (but are masters of conversations online)- but life was not meant to be lived online- just in the here and now between 2 or more people present in the same place and space. ‘Roller Skate’ challenges us all to limit our screen time on our phones, and hopefully we are to follow-through with this life adjustment- Sheryl I’m sure through this song, is reminding herself about changes she needs to do in her own life, as well as the life of others, too!

Threads released at the end of 2019, and upon this 17-track album, we see a plethora of artists that Sheryl herself has collaborated with to make this duets album happen. Frankly, I haven’t really heard of many of the other artists ever- except for Maren Morris and Vince Gill (and I still haven’t heard much of Vince or his music over the years, only that he is the husband of very prominent and popular CCM artist Amy Grant), so as I went into listening to this album, I was as in the dark about how to approach these songs, as a lot of other people who may not have known all these artists too. Which means that I came to this album with a non-bias- seeing the songs as they are and not being influenced because this artist is on it or that. Nevertheless, Threads from an objective standpoint is arguably one of the most comprehensive and star-studded albums I’ve seen in quite some time. ‘Redemption Day’ is re-recorded again by Sheryl, this time featuring the demo vocals of Johnny Cash prior to his passing, and this duet forms the centrepiece of Threads. It’s message? Longing for a better day than the one we’re in right now, and such a song as ‘Redemption Day’ is very much applicable now during this quarantining pandemic season of life. While many have assumed such an album with this much collaborations had to have come about through agents and official channels, Sheryl herself reveals that the coming-together of artists for this project was actually much more of the opposite- ‘…it started off with a session with Kris Kristofferson, who, I think most people know, is in the throes of either Alzheimer’s or Lyme disease [and] not making recent memories anymore. I worked with him in the studio and I just felt like, “This is important. This is what I want more of. I want to pull in the people that inspired me before I knew them, who have become a part of my life.” And so I started reaching out personally to people and everyone said yes. We made the record flying places, bringing people in. We did it through technology with people who were in England like Eric [Clapton] and Sting. And then by the end of 3 1/2 years, we just said, “You know what, we’re done.”…’

Threads is an album that celebrates music and the way that songs speak to people in times of difficulty and need, and while for me I found that this is an album that needs to be listened to again and again to fully understand all these themes attached to these melodies, what I do understand has given me a sense of respect and admiration not only for Sheryl, but for a lot of the people she has collaborated with on the project- ‘For the Sake of Love’, a collaboration with Vince Gill, encourages us all to look at our motivations and see whether love is at the primary reason as to why we undertake our choices and our decisions, while ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ acknowledges the fragility and the humanity of us all and places the perfection-complex off of us as we live or lives without the need to prove to people we don’t screw up (when in fact we do!). ‘Lonely Alone’ allows the legend himself Willie Nelson to bring to life a duet about people needing other people to lean on (even if it is strangers) in the midst of difficult trials and uncertainties, and brings to light this issue of loneliness that often plagues the older generation: especially now during a pandemic; while ‘Cross Creek Road’ reminds us all that we are just here on this earth as temporary passengers- we live and die and live the best life we can, our lives are just a mist when it comes to the time in which we’re here on this earth, the history that has come before, and this notion of eternity described to us by Jesus through the Bible.

‘Story Of Everything’ is a six minute collaboration between rapper Chuck D., soulful artist Andra Day and guitarist Gary Clark Jr; as this track brings to light an issue in society that needs to be addressed, and addressed pronto- the disparity of living standards in America, as well as the gun culture that seems to be plaguing America from the east to the west. As Sheryl herself lends a perspective on the song, we can see that ‘…“The Story of Everything” was born out of a feeling of frustration with the state of affairs in America at this moment in time. As a single mother, I feel a responsibility to my children to speak to the urgent issues that are shaping the world they will inherit from us through my music. I felt that so much hope accompanied our first black President into office, but that hope turned into fear and division. My old friend Chuck D has been speaking to the history of racial struggle and inequality in his music for decades. Chuck and I got to know each other around 1994, in the Rock the Vote days. He is one of the most important poets of our day. And Gary Clark Jr, who plays guitar on the track, has risen to make his own fierce musical and social statements. Back in 2009, Gary came into audition for my 100 Miles From Memphis tour, and it was evident from the second he plugged in his guitar that he had a bigger destiny than being just a sideman…’ ‘Prove You Wrong’, the ultimate of collaborations between Sheryl, up and coming singer-songwriter/country artist Maren Morris, and lead singer of Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, speaks of a confidence that someone has after a breakup with an ex, as we’re reminded that the confidence that comes after a relationship is broken, is because of a sense of identity and a secure foundation in who a persona was prior to said relationship; while ‘Wouldn’t Wanna Be Like You’ gives us a great challenge to follow, as we focus on a theme that may have been swept under the rug for too long- the bendable nature of the truth, and how governments, companies, big corporations and underground corporate mafias all use the truth as a means to get something in the end, usually to do with money. The song itself challenges us to really understand what truth really means without money involved; and know what we need to do in order to protect our morals and the truth, from the likes of money and the love of it.

Sheryl’s music in terms of albums has come to an end in Threads, but that hasn’t meant that her time in music is over. She’s releasing singles, just like how she’s released singles in the past before. Her unveiling of ‘Lonely Town, Lonely Street’ was a collaboration with long-time friends Citizen Cope, with the song being a cover from an original by Bill Withers (of ‘Lean on Me’ fame), while ‘Woman in the White House’ was a song that could’ve been controversial at the time of unveiling- in 2012, Sheryl released the song about wanting to have a female president, for a little female perspective from the other side. Whether this longing by Sheryl will even be realised in the near future is a different story. Regardless, a song like this can bring to the fore needed discussions we all should have about what we perceive politics to be in the future and what we want to happen. Sheryl’s Christmas album, full of carols, holiday songs and the originally written track ‘There’s a Star That Shines Tonight’, bowed out to the public in 2008, and reminded us all about the day that has been special to many Christians (and also non-Christians alike) around the world for centuries upon centuries; while songs like ‘Real Gone’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, remind us all of how great Sheryl’s songs are, enough so that her music can be picked in movies and soundtracks alike- ‘Real Gone’ was the theme song for 2006’s Cars, while 1997’s James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies showcased it’s theme song, also of the same name, by Sheryl all those years ago.

‘…I have loved the tradition of making records. I grew up holding the actual physical record and poring over the album notes and just dreaming about doing what I’m doing now. And with technology, it’s a little bit like putting the toothpaste back into the tube. We can’t go back and expect — particularly young people — to listen to albums from top to bottom. It’s almost a dying art form in that people cherry-pick songs and put them on playlists. So, I don’t know that the listening audience really ever gets the sense of the full artistic statement…’

‘…I’ve said all along, I don’t know how I would follow this up. I feel like it’s a full artistic statement. And I don’t know that people process music that way anymore, where they sit down and travel through a whole story: a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s more cherry-picked now. I could complain about it, but it is the way that it is. So I like going out on this and saying: This is the story of my musical life, and my career. And anything after this will be shorter. More succinct and immediate…’

Sheryl’s music has been a beacon of hope, light, compelling moments of change and heartfelt emotive instances of poignancy and gut-wrenching points of introspection and soul-searching, as we have seen throughout the years, an artist that has been not afraid to push the boundaries and sing about things that the relatively mainstream artists haven’t dared to touch. Sexual assault, caring for the planet, the misuse of technology and the rise of social media, the love of money and the corruption of governments, the need to worry less and soak up the atmosphere and focus on the finer things in life- these are all themes that people may not address in mainstream media, for reasons unknown, that Sheryl herself has delved into over the years, and for this alone, she is influential to society, community and music as a whole. Not afraid to speak her mind, even if it may cost her popularity; Sheryl has given a younger generation, the hope to challenge the system if needed, and to have our own inward way to find peace and hope in a world that doesn’t feel that hopeful at the moment, to not look outward for external validation, hoping that what we do or say will have any indication of whether we are to be accepted or not by society. Sheryl’s music is indeed a breath of fresh air, and an artist that, after hearing for a week or so, is fast becoming one of the most underrated female music artists I’ve come across within this last year and a bit of writing these music blogs, alongside artists like Sara Bareilles, Martina McBride and Mandy Moore.

Does Sheryl Crow and her music make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song, like ‘All I Wanna Do’, ‘The Light In Your Eyes’ and ‘If it Makes You Happy’; that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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