Sheryl Crow is trying to pull a Hootie. Oops, sorry, make that a Darius Rucker.
Like the lead singer of Hootie & the Blowfish, Crow is trying to make the transition from a big 1990s pop star to a new-millennium country star.
She has the requisite Nashville address, pedal steel guitar and “y’alls” in her conversation. But she doesn’t wear rhinestones, fuss with her long hair or subscribe to conservative politics (in fact, she’s a liberal Democratic activist). Still, she’s already had sizable country hit, the Kid Rock duet “Picture,” and she’s releasing her first album for Warner Music Nashville on Sept. 10.
At the State Fair grandstand on Sunday, Crow previewed five songs from her new album. She definitely knows how to write a country tune that has the right hook and emotional impact.
And it was clear that at least a couple of her old hits, namely “Strong Enough” and “If It Makes You Happy,” could easily be country hits.
But there was something that could hold her back in country. And, no, it isn’t necessarily her age (at 51, while she doesn’t look it, she might be a bit advanced for country’s core crowd). It was her inability to consistently sell a song in concert, which is essential for country.
It’s not that she doesn’t have the voice or the ability to deliver her emotion-packed lyrics. The issue was that the guitars in her band were almost always too loud, drowning out her voice. In country concerts, voice is the most important instrument.
Curiously, the electric guitars were dialed down on Crow’s new, rock-flavored selections, including the strutting “Best of Times” featuring Crow’s smokin’ harmonica, and “Shotgun,” which is about riding in the front seat, not shooting guns. Remember, she’s a liberal from Missouri.
The other new numbers were the single “Easy,” which sounds like bland laid-back Crow pop, and the more country-sounding and cleverly conceived “Call Me When I’m Lonely” and the impassioned ballad “Give It To Me,” both of which have hit potential.
Several of her pop hits connected with maximum effect. “Can’t Cry Anymore” found her wailing and testifying at the end, and “Soak Up the Sun,” a slice of makes-you-happy pop fluff, had the 5,361 fans singing along. And she surprised them with a killer rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” to end her 90-minute show.
Crow demonstrated the smiley, chatty persona that goes with being in country music. She mentioned her kids, State Fair stuff and her opening act, Dwight Yoakam. She talked about her love of the Midwest and how she almost married a Minneapolis man (she did an impression of filmmaker Joe Blake’s mom with a Minnesota accent: “Joe, you betcha”).
Crow clearly has the ingredients and potential for country stardom. Now if she can just get her sound engineer and band ready to go country.
In his opening 70-minute set, Yoakam, 57, showed why he has reigned as an exciting country maverick for more than 25 years. He has smartly crafted songs; a stellar California honky-tonk sound with a little British Invasion rock seasoning; a crackerjack, rhinestone-enwrapped band featuring Gene Edwards’ versatile twangy guitar; an effective voice and undiminished sex appeal thanks to his tighty Dwighty jeans and that little boot scootin’ shuffle he does. Even Crow said she wished she could do that move, but she admitted not with her high heels on.
Set lists at www.startribune.com/art cetera