On her most recent studio LP to date, last year’s 100 Miles From Memphis, Sheryl Crow set out to honor classic R&B of the late ‘60s and ‘70s by composing and covering songs ostensibly in that stylistic vein. Despite a couple standout moments, however, the album just didn’t live up to its potential, drawing on genre-specific clichés like horns and gospel-tinged backing vocals more than universal conviction.
Still, a rewarding live performance can transcend even the most lackluster material; and yet, for the most part, the one documented on Miles From Memphis: Live at the Pantages Theatre does not. The set begins encouragingly enough — Crow brings plenty of charisma to the stage, and her band here is outstanding — but it soon succumbs to the same stale motifs as on the album, which informs most of the show.
In fact, she spruces up older cuts in much the same dressing — “All I Wanna Do” morphs into Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” the curious transition leaving little to be desired; “Strong Enough” is usurped by an awkward reggae romp, with Crow at times affecting a faux-Jamaican accent — making this soul serenade seem like either a mismatched experiment of artist and genre or, worse, a contrived one.
Thankfully a stripped-down, pensive version of “Redemption Day,” an underrated highlight of the Sheryl Crow album, along with the effervescent hit, “Soak Up The Sun,” help ensure that Miles From Memphis isn’t all for naught.
In the DVD’s bonus footage — a featurette that includes a two-song soundcheck along with commentary from Crow on her band and her aspirations for this particular project — she talks about why R&B and soul music has long resonated with her, and how that appreciation ultimately inspired 100 Miles From Memphis and, consequently, this concert film. She admires legends like Curtis Mayfield and Sly & The Family Stone, she explains, because within even their funkiest, most accessible songs they voiced messages of social and political relevance. “The opportunity to go out and carry on that tradition,” Crow concludes, “for me, is not just humbling but it’s really exciting.” It’s also really presumptuous, and any such assimilation does little to help her credibility in what is an all-around missed opportunity.