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The Critics Corner: Albums
100 Miles from Memphisa
Sheryl Crow: 100 Miles to Memphis
7th studio album makes general return to childhood musical roots

Name: 100 Miles from Memphis
Label: A&M/Interscope
Release Date: July 20, 2010
Rating: 4.25 out of 5

Review written by: Alan Ho

The 2-decade career of singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow has seen just about every up and down one has ever seen in music. From her little-known beginnings as a backup dancer to the late Michael Jackson to having gone rather country on her previous effort, the only constant in Crow's musical career is...unpredictability. Say what you want about her, she is the very essence of fusion music. Her blend of pop, rock, country, blues and folk have made her the quintessential music chameleon that has been often imitated, but never bettered.

The unpredictability that has defined her career shines on her seventh studio album aptly titled "100 Miles to Memphis". But this time around, Crow has completely ditched every leaning that defined her musical soul for the last 17 years for a big time glimpse into what she grew up listening to in a Missouri town called Kennett, which is literally situated 100 miles from Memphis.

The album begins on a very strong note with the buoyant and old school soul track "Our Love Is Fading". The track, despite its old-school soul overtones, delivers the same happy-go-lucky tone that the singer-songwriter brought plenty of in 2002's "C'mon, C'mon". The opening track also showcases Sheryl's underrated lower vocal range, which holds very well in this Motown-sounding track; the only drawback is the 6:21 run time, it takes a few listens to get used to it. Another track that will remind her fans of the aforementioned "C'mon, C'mon" is "Say What You Want".

Memphis Stax sound meets reggae in the second track on the album, "Eye to Eye". It is another relatively breezy but laid-back playful track that features a very groovy reggae guitar from legendary Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. Memphis native Justin Timberlake lends a key helping hand on a very slinky, sensual cover of Terence Trent D'Arby's "Sign Your Name", the third track on the effort. Justin's contribution is very subtle and can be heard in the background vocals, but it lends a modern feel to an Al Green-themed track.

The next track is the radio-friendly "Summer Day". Not only is it a song once can clap their hands on the radio airwaves with the top down on an open road, this is one of the few pure Memphis Stax tracks on the album. The Stax movement was one of grooves and fueled by horns and "Summer Day" certainly pays homage to the good old sounds of Stax R&B and soul! "Long Road Home" is another strong must listen to track as she takes the other element of Stax groove, gospel into play on the track. Her vocals again surprisingly shine in the lower range, which allows her to tackle the gospel leaning she puts forth in this track.

The next three tracks after "Say What You Want" offer nothing unique to the album, they're just good but nothing to write home about although out of the three, her interesting cover of "Sideways" is worth listening to (features original performing artist Citizen Cope, a very interesting mix and sound dynamic). The title track offers up though a real nice electric guitar and an overall Curtis Mayfield type feel and groove to it. It is not the greatest title track ever, but it is fun to listen to. The final element that made Stax just so good in its time is evident in "Roses and Moonlight". This track offers up the slippery funk and jazz/blues which encompassed the final key to what made Memphis Stax click for a while. This might be the best track on the album next to "Summer Day" and "Sign Your Name". The album ends with a pretty well-done cover of the Jackson 5 No. 1 hit from 1969, "I Want You Back". While some critics have branded it as "nothing new, just redundant", this reviewer is electing to say it is an excellent, well done faithful rendition to this 1969 classic, which was their first single ever. It is so faithful, you might actually think its the young late Michael instead of Sheryl, a testament to her talents perhaps.

Overall this is a well-done effort with the seemingly perfect blend of covers and originals with one spectacular bonus cover at the end if you are lucky and fortunate to get your hands on that one. She certainly has gone back home with this album full of grooves and sounds from the once great and departed Stax & Hi Records and the songs she once grew up to as a child. It only served as influence to the rest of her music and after 17 years, she has finally let her fans clue in to that fact. 16 years ago, she came storming on the charts with "All I Wanna Do" and just 8 years ago, she wanted to "Soak Up The Sun". In 2010, she just simply wants to be "100 Miles from Memphis" and after the kind of career shes had and will continue to have, it is always good to come back home every once in a while.
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