Apparently you can take the country out of the artist — at least when the formerly country artist is Sheryl Crow.
Having indulged her love for country music with 2013's "Feels Like Home," an album made in Nashville, the Kennett, Mo., native is allowing the pendulum to swing back toward the rock-rooted sound and attitude with which she first found success nearly a quarter-century ago.
She just signed a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records, which will release her new album on April 21, telegraphically titled "Be Myself."
The title track was among several new songs she introduced Thursday night during a surprise small-scale show at the Troubadour in West Hollywood.
"If I can't be somebody else," she sang, "I might as well be myself," in a refrain she repeated multiple times. It was almost as if she wanted to make sure the point wasn't lost on any onlookers: the Sheryl Crow they've known and loved is back.
"Feels Like Home" emerged after she moved to the country music capital, following many years in Los Angeles, where she honed her musical chops and broke through big time with her 1993 debut album "Tuesday Night Music Club."
It's not a revolutionary leap to go country, especially from the rock narratives she specialized in with hits such as "All I Wanna Do," "My Favorite Mistake," "If It Makes You Happy" and "Strong Enough," all of which she delivered with backing from a loose but potent six-piece band during the two-hour set.
"I'm 55 … years old — c'mon people!" she said cheerily at one point, urging fans to join her in moving their feet as she lightly bounded around the crowded stage.
Some of the new songs deal with the struggle between a yearning for independence and a desire for human connection ("Alone in the Dark"). But over the course of different themes she tackled it was clear that she hasn't lost knack for instantly hummable choruses and lyric hooks that quickly embed themselves in listeners' brains.
She seemed equally at ease through the show whether she was strumming an acoustic guitar, pealing off a few riffs on a sparkling Fender Telecaster, plucking away at her red electric bass or sitting down at an electric piano for some gentle keyboard accompaniment.
She holds an increasingly rare spot in pop music: a female rocker who writes and sings, who is utterly comfortable navigating what remains predominantly a boys' club, while staying devoted to voicing a woman's perspective on life, love, politics and even social media. ("I'm committed to not being on my phone all the time," she said, sharing a bit of her philosophy as the single parent of two young sons, with whom she lives on a ranch in West Nashville.)
That carried through to Thursday's show, where concertgoers were required to check phones at the door or leave them in their cars so the evening might proceed without the now typical sea of cellphone screens hoisted in the air.
Now that was revolutionary. The Times will have more on Crow and the new album closer to the release date. She's also scheduled a full-fledged tour starting April 22 in Atlantic City, N.J., and reaching Los Angeles June 8 for a stop at the Greek Theatre.
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