Sheryl Crow’s latest album, 100 Miles From Memphis, derives its title from Crow’s hometown of Kennett, Missouri, which is located about 100 miles from Memphis, Tennessee. In the music Crow pays homage to her Southern roots growing up, citing influences ranging from Delaney and Bonnie to Al Green. The album is surprisingly laid back and it’s a pleasurable listen, but in the end it fails to fully ignite the deep soul groove it strives for.
Crow co-produced 100 Miles From Memphis along with Justin Stanley and Doyle Bramhall II. As well as having previously worked with Crow as a guitarist and background vocalist on her 2002 album C’mon, C’mon, Bramhall has also worked with Eric Clapton, Roger Waters, Taylor Hicks, Susan Tedeschi, and Derek Trucks, just to name a few. In addition to producing this album, Bramhall also co-wrote all but one of its original songs as well as having played guitar, harmonica and mandolin.
Bramhall is but one of a plethora of guest musicians on this album. Among them, Memphis native Justin Timberlake joins Crow on a cover of Terence Trent D’Arby’s ’80’s hit “Sign Your Name.” His presence on the Al Green styled track is subtle, with his voice well blended into the background. As well, Keith Richards adds a cool reggae groove to “Eye to Eye.”
What’s missing from this album, however, are songs with big hooks, unlike the ones on previous albums like Sheryl Crow and The Globe Sessions. 100 Miles From Memphis requires a complete listen — and maybe more than one listen — to really appreciate everything it has to offer. In these days of downloading singles, where structured albums are becoming a lost art, that in itself is not a bad thing. And yet one problem is the album is almost too laid back. It’s not one that’s begging to be listened to, but rather more of a “sit back and relax” kind of album that may fail to grab attention. The ballad, “Stop,” for instance (which is the only song credited solely to Crow), is nicely sung but doesn’t offer anything unique. And while intriguing at first, “Sign Your Name” is a bit of a disappointment (and a bit boring) overall, sounding like it could have been done by anyone.
That being said, there are still several noteworthy songs. “Long Road Home” is a gospel-influenced, upbeat song with jazzy horns that’s fun to listen to. While the title track is catchy in the vein of classic Sheryl Crow, “Eye to Eye” cuts an authentic reggae groove. And on what’s clearly done as a tribute to Michael Jackson, Crow delivers an incredibly faithful rendition Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” as a bonus track, sounding uncannily like the young MJ.
100 Miles From Memphis is a nice throwback to the Memphis Stax sound. And though Crow may not have the vocals of her soul influences, she works these tunes to fit her style while still musically evoking their classic sound. A little more rawness to the production and vocals would have been preferred, but the album nevertheless has a consistent feel that stays true to the artist.Powered by Sidelines