BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Early Sunday afternoon, Sheryl Crow arrived on a small stage set up inside the W Atlanta Buckhead.
She wasn’t there to perform. Rather, with longtime songwriting collaborator Jeff Trott by her side and esteemed former 99X/current senior vice president of music and talent at CMT Leslie Fram positioned to moderate, Crow took a seat on a white couch to answer questions and talk about her new album, “Be Myself.”
The hour-long event, produced by the Recording Academy’s Atlanta chapter, attracted many of Georgia’s musical luminaries, including Chuck Leavell, Jan Smith, Brandon Bush, Third Day’s Tai Anderson and Peter Stroud, Crow’s longtime guitarist who would join her onstage that night at Chastain Park Amphitheatre.
A youthful-looking Crow, clad in ripped jeans and Converse sneakers, reminisced briefly about the first record she bought (“ABC” by The Jackson 5 – “Then I went on tour with them 26 years later,” she reminded the invite-only crowd) and her upbringing with a piano teacher mom; but she mostly wanted to discuss the present.
She referred to Trott as “my musical husband” and added, “we are intrinsically similar in the way we look at life.”
Trott, who has worked with Crow for 20 years and lives near the singer in Nashville, noted that the writing process for Crow’s recently released “Be Myself” often started with simple conversations between the pair.
Crow’s ambivalence about our smartphone-obsessed society is documented in the first song written for the album, “Alone in the Dark.” As a mom to two young sons, Crow said she thought about “how difficult it is to navigate your teens (already) and then you have this gadget that tells you that you’re worthless.”
That led to a lively discourse about the saturation of phone distractions at her (or, really, all) concerts.
“It’s…WEIRD,” Crow, 55, said to laughs from the audience. “I’m sorry, but it is. It’s the new reality to play to people’s cell phones…but I think there is something beautiful about connecting with people’s faces.”
You can hear more of what Crow and Trott had to say in the videos below.
Several hours later, Crow bounded onto a bigger stage at Chastain and immediately established a cheery vibe with her opening trio of hits – “Everyday is a Winding Road,” “A Change Would Do You Good” and her remarkably durable 1993 breakthrough, “All I Wanna Do.”
Her voice supple and her aura rock-star-meets-minivan-mom, Crow dotted her set with some of the hardiest tracks on the excellent “Be Myself,” including the bluntly amusing title track and the tangy rocker, “Halfway There,” her measured reaction to the raw political climate.
“We’ve gotta figure out a way to have a conversation in this country the way we used to,” she told the crowd, which filled about two-thirds of the venue on an atypically pleasant weather night.
Throughout her set, Crow engaged jauntily with the crowd as she alternated among guitar, bass, tambourine and harmonica and her six-piece band fleshed out her roots-pop catalog with taut professionalism.
Stroud, who shared licks with fellow guitarist Audley Freed, unspooled a meaty solo on “My Favorite Mistake,” that sticky confirmation of unrequited love, and offered stinging riffs during “Can’t Cry Anymore.”
At the end of that throwback from her “Tuesday Night Music Club” debut, Crow hit an eyebrow-raising high note and seemed to surprise herself with the accomplishment – more proof that her voice has aged as well as her carefree smile.
Throughout her 25-year career, Crow has amassed a laudable catalog with few missteps (her uneven 2013 country debut, “Feels Like Home,” was lukewarm, but hardly unpleasant). That’s an impressive feat in itself, but the fact that she’s still flexing her musical triceps on record and on stage is testament to her enduring musical talent.
At the W Buckhead Sunday afternoon, Sheryl Crow and songwriting collaborator Jeff Trott talked about her new album at an “Up Close and Personal” event produced by the Recording Academy Atlanta chapter. Former 99X personality Leslie Fram, who is currently senior vice president of music strategy at Country Music Television, moderated the hour-long event.