CD Review: Songwriter Sheryl Crow’s New Music is Personal on “Detours”

RATING:  2 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

As an album, Detours is certainly not what its title would imply. If anything, this is a further return to form for Sheryl Crow – equal parts acoustic and electric, serious and carefree. At every turn, it surprises and engages and, above all, denies the listener the opportunity to get too comfortable. She is concerned about a series of social issues, yet she does not stop there—she shares some advice for getting back on the right track and, of course, some relevant personal tales.

The songs on this album can essentially be divided into three main categories—topical songs, songs about love and peace, and personal songs. The album kicks off with a selection from the first category, the acoustic-only “God Bless This Mess.” With lines like, “The president…led us as a nation into a war based on lies,” Crow establishes early on that she will not be pulling any punches. Then, if there was any question in the listener’s mind as to whether or not this album would be too simple, she thunders into “Shine Over Babylon,” spewing lines about teachers’ hands being “overrun,” cities “drowning under boiling fountains,” and scavengers handing us “all the junk that should have damned” us. Upon a first listen, I was happy to hear that someone else is very much unhappy with the state of affairs in our nation and in our world. She goes on to address, as the title implies, “Gasoline” and the priorities that some place in parties, reality-TV, and the like in “Motivation.”

If this was her only focus, then Detours may have been quite a downer indeed. However, true to form, Crow compliments her darker songs with an equal helping of tunes calling for us to embrace peace and love. In an almost hippie-esque fashion, she declares “Everybody’s making love ‘cause love is free” and later calls upon us to invoke the refrain, “Peace Be Upon Us” At times, these songs can end in a repetitive manner or come across as too simple, but overall they seem sincere and not so out of place on an album that asks us to strip everything down to the surface, from social issues to romantic relationships. And, if the protest song-undertones of songs like “Out of Our Heads” isn’t your cup of tea, then it is hard to ignore a catchy and upbeat rocker like “Love Is All There Is.” Ringo Starr would be proud.

What really brings this album home for me is the final category of songs, namely the personal tales that inhabit this release. Both the title track and “Make It Go Away (The Radiation Song)” come across as deeply personal and, again, very sincere. Coming on the heels of her recent treatments for cancer, these songs translate as authentic glimpses into her mindset as an individual. For instance, as she explained in a recent interview, detours is a term she uses to describe experiences that force us to reevaluate our priorities and our lives. Physical health isn’t her only concern; on the contrary, the emotions of new love shine through on “Drunk With the Thought of You” and the gloom of love gone wrong can be heard in every breath of “Diamond Ring.” I thought it very fitting of her to put “Lullaby for Wyatt” last in the track listing. After an album’s worth of sorting through the world’s problems and both advocating the importance of and considering the realities of love, she ends with the realization that she loves her son, but “love is letting go.”

When she released C’mon, C’mon in 2002, I had difficulty finding merit in its pop-based sound and mentality, and I wondered what her future albums would be like. It only took a few guitar strums and the first line of track one, “I Know Why,” from her subsequent 2005 album Wildflower to put any concerns out of my mind entirely. Now, Detours has reaffirmed my interest in Crow’s music, if only for its ability to cover so much ground—political, social, interpersonal—in such a sincere manner.

** EDITOR’S NOTE **

The 2 star rating (out of five) was added after the review was written.  This is an album that had very little staying power, and I was admittedly much more enthusiastic about the release than I should have been, most likely due to events in my personal life — i.e. the decision to buy more CD’s in 2008 to really experience a broader range of new music.  I hope you enjoy the album, as I did when I first wrote this review.  However, the rating should act as a warning from a wiser listener.  :-)

This is one in a series of acoustic cover songs, original music, and free mp3 downloads here on the Laptop Sessions Music Video Blog.

8 thoughts on “CD Review: Songwriter Sheryl Crow’s New Music is Personal on “Detours”

  1. I have very little respect for Sheryl Crow. Even though this review lauds her “sincerity”, I really beg to differ. I mean, someone that sleeps with her musical idols and then outright copies their song styles really doesn’t strike me as sincere. Every time I hear a Sheryl Crow song come on the radio in a store or something like that, I always think, “Wow, this sounds exactly like a Dylan, Clapton, Petty song!” Oh, wait, it’s Sheryl Crow. And, on top of that, I don’t think complaining about a subject the ENTIRE nation knows is wrong is really bringing light to ANY political issues. Talking about how the Iraq war is based on lies? Hello, Sheryl, we’ve all known about this for years now. Are you sure you weren’t supposed to release this album in 2005? Singers and writers like Bob Dylan made people think about problems they didn’t even know were problems yet! That’s what made Dylan a revolutionary writer- he didn’t complain about things people already complained about- he looked at society and found truths that people didn’t want to believe yet.

    Sheryl Crow can date and copy the musical styles of the great writers of old rock and folk, but she will never be them- and thus never earn my respect.

  2. It seems pretty harsh to say that she “outright copies” their song styles. I think Sheryl Crow has very much found a sound that is all her own, while being influenced by the greats you mentioned — she’s admitted her influences, which makes me like her even more.

    You make a good point about the political issues, though, and especially about what made Dylan so revolutionary. I guess I never really thought about it like that before.

  3. I do understand what you’re getting at, but the purpose of my review was to praise this album at least partially due to how little it resembles C’mon C’mon, the album that boasted my two least favorite Sheryl Crow songs–“Soak Up the Sun” and “Steve McQueen.” In fact, there are a good number of her album tracks that I think are far superior to her “I heard them in Taco Bell” songs.

    I liked her last album even better than this one, and I always regretted not writing a review. (It probably wouldn’t help my “she doesn’t copy Petty” case to mention that her last album was titled “Wildflower”… :-))

  4. Influences are one thing. But, when you have someone that writes songs like “Soak Up the Sun”, you start to realize that her “style” doesn’t normally sound like the aforementioned artists- she just chooses to sound like them in certain songs. Influences are one thing, but when I write a song, people tell me it reminds them of the Beach Boys. But, you don’t hear me doing songs with bass clarinets, background “la’s” all the time, and falsetto leads at every turn. I think you understand what I’m getting at here.

  5. For the record, I couldn’t accuse you of a double standard if I wanted to; you wrote earlier something to the effect that Sheryl Crow could have sung about these issues in 2005 BEFORE they were common knowledge. Jack Johnson DID in fact sing about these issues in 2005. And I thought he did a great job avoiding preachiness.

  6. Oh, and I wanted to mention:

    I know Jack Johnson also talks about these glaring political problems that the world is facing today. But, you’ve never heard me praising him for that, and you never will. I don’t like ANY preachy songs, whether I agree with them or not.

    Just to preempt any accusations of a double-standard.

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