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Sheryl Crow - Threads (Album Review)

Tuesday, 10 September 2019 Written by Simon Ramsay

Sheryl Crow’s always been good at what she does. No more, no less. She’s crafted the occasional moment that might be deemed great, but although a Grammy-winning superstar who’s sold tens of millions of albums, her songs  have rarely threatened to attain classic status or reshape the musical landscape. Unlike the work of the legends she’s drafted in for this enjoyable, albeit indulgent and flawed, duets record.

Aiming to honour those who inspired her while offering a showcase to some of today’s younger artists, everyone from Stevie Nicks, Johnny Cash and Lucius to Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, St. Vincent and Jason Isbell appear on an overlong 75 minute record that—despite some classy moments—is thematically, tonally and stylistically scattershot. If it is to be Crow’s sign off, then it’s a mixed one.

Things begin well, though, with Prove You Wrong vintage Crow. Boasting Nicks and current country-pop starlet Marren Morris, it’s a buoyant romp where an overly familiar chord progression and melody are enlivened by the trio’s spirit and sass.

Bluesy-soul burner Live Wire is equally spunky thanks to the legendary Mavis Staples, and the Chris Stapleton duet Tell Me When It’s Over feels like a long lost Tom Petty smash. 

Elsewhere, the Joe Walsh-powered Still The Good Old Days, folky Cross Creek Road (with Lukas Nelson and Neil Young), tender back and forth of Nobody’s Perfect, alongside Emmylou Harris, and the shuffling slice of breezy optimism Flying Blind, featuring James Taylor, impress. Had Crow stitched ‘Threads’ around these rootsy, well executed tracks, she’d have a cohesive, if unoriginal, record that plays to her strengths.

Unfortunately things go off the stylistic rails in spectacular fashion, particularly on the shark-jumping monstrosity Story Of Everything. An attempt at social commentary filled with perfunctory observations, it’s a messy misstep, with Chuck D’s opening rap so jarring it’s like the record’s suddenly been interrupted by a Spotify advert. Another instance of the increasingly irritating trope of white artists adding ‘instant rapper’ for extra socio-political cred, it feels both cynical and impotent.

Confusingly moving between clusters of darker, slower, more serious numbers, the sequencing here is also dreadful.  Those particular songs are mostly well done, but grouped together create the erroneous impression of a miserable record. And Crow’s inability to add true vocal gravitas doesn’t help. Although a technically superior singer to the likes of Cash, his aged drawl possesses a power and depth of emotion that reinvents her Redemption Day as a much weightier battle between damnation and salvation than it actually is.  

Throughout those tracks it’s also clear Crow has failed to impart a unique songwriting voice and genuine insight, perhaps underlining that she’s better suited to a middle-of-the-road aesthetic than songs aiming for profundity. That lack of compelling musical presence is the main reason ‘Threads’ doesn’t hang together with the same unity as Santana’s similarly guest heavy and eclectic ‘Supernatural.’ Such projects demand a strong, idiosyncratic personality at their core in order to gel everything together.  

That said, if this turns out to be Crow’s swansong she deserves credit for bringing these artists together and collaborating with them on some fine compositions. Aside from the odd stinker and some poor decisions, ‘Threads’ is a good, occasionally very good, effort that works better on a song-by-song basis than over the course of a whole album. Which, somewhat ironically, makes for a fitting conclusion to her recording career.

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