Well, it happened. Sheryl Crow finally (and fully) embraced the nu-country direction that she was nose-diving towards since 2005’s Wallflower. It’s a somewhat brave choice, but one that’s befitting her seemingly natural progression as an artist. You could have hoped for a more edgy approach to a characteristically uninteresting style, but Sheryl abandoned edgy since she started singing about soaking up the sun and all that bullshit. Feels Like Home begins with the country trope “Shotgun” – the kind of song where country artists take a one-sentence simile and stretch it out over the course of an entire song. It isn’t until track two where the thesis of this country direction comes into full effect. “Easy” perfectly encapsulates this genre-shift that you could have seen a mile away. That isn’t to say that all country is easy, but rather, Crow makes it look pretty easy. Every song sways with grace and ease and each track sounds like a beefed up Dolly Parton song. Most notable on this fairly fair effort is how Crow has opted against trending towards cross-over hits like Taylor Swift or Carrie Underwood, but instead made conscious efforts to nuance her obvious country influences like Parton, Tammy Wynette, and Loretta Lynn. Beyond that, the album is just so freaking catchy, it’s ridiculous.
The nexus of this catchiness comes with “Callin’ Me When I’m Lonely”. It’s a typical country song, and on it she sings: “Why is he always gotta be calling me when I’m lonely? / It’s so wrong to be leading me on and I can’t say no / He swears that it’s gonna be different this time but it won’t be / Why is he always gotta be calling me when I’m lonely?” It’s so freakin’ catchy and rings out with a home-hitting familiarity that you can’t help but think: “Why does he always gotta be callin’ me when I’m lonely? The jerk.” That’s what Sheryl Crow is going for with this new record – relatability, sung in a twangy manner with lyrics that are meant more to make you smile than tug at your heart strings.
Not surprisingly, her sometimes corny lyrics are much better suited to this new direction than they ever were in her alt-folk-rock-pop thing she was going for. On “Crazy Ain’t Original” she sings: “Checking in and out and in and out of rehab / It ain’t quite the shame it used to be / Well you’re dressed to be the star ‘cause one bad / Mug shot makes you much more interesting / Crazy ain’t original these days / The world was going half-crazy anyway / Anything you can think of, it’s all been done before / Crazy ain’t original no more.” An audible jeer can be heard amongst the hipster crowd, I’m sure. Read aloud, or even sung to music that seems like it should take itself much more seriously than it does, these lyrics would surely turn off even the most casual of listeners. But punch it up with a spicy country outfit and it doesn’t sound half bad – a true testament to what can be pulled off if the genre is done right.
That’s not to say that everything Crow puts on in this record is fun, no matter how hard she tries. On “Waterproof Mascara” she sings: “So he wants to know does Superman really need to wear his cape to fly? / Where does rain come from? / And can I play outside? / All my friends have daddys, momma why don’t I? / And so I wear waterproof mascara / There’s things you shouldn’t see when you’re a kid / Thank God they make waterproof mascara / ‘Cuz it won’t run like his daddy did.” That’s right, you read that last line correctly: “Thank God they make waterproof mascara, ‘cause it won’t run like his daddy did.” Yeah, just sit with that for awhile. It’s hilarious! And completely unintentional.
This is the biggest problem for Crow and her toe-tappin’, cowboy rappin’ departure. She tackles every song with a particular gimmick – one glance at the tracklisting and you know exactly what she’s going to sing with each song. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but ultimately you wish that she would have taken this opportunity to flip the genre on its head instead of pander to it. She doesn’t, but, well, Crow stopped being that kind of artist after the release of her self-titled sophomore CD, so it’s not totally unsurprising.
The album closer “Stay at Home Mother” is actually a perfect blend of all that is right and wrong with this record, and manages to elevate itself beyond some of the tired tropes she falls back on in such a way that it’s kind of clever and somewhat touching. It’s a very simple track with a very simple story, but expressed astutely and eloquently. And while a lot of Feels Like Home misses the mark in this capacity, enough of it rings with the ole’ Sheryl Crow charm to make it a worthy entry into her repertoire and a notable foray into Country-pop music territory.