Detours

The opening track is recorded in low-fi, an acoustic guitar and a single plaintive female voice sincerely expressing hope for a messed up world. Is this Dar Williams singing about our post 9/11 culture? Nope, it’s Sheryl Crow taking a short detour on “God Bless This Mess” before she launches into her trademark rock on the second track “Shine Over Babylon.” Still, there is a theme here. Broken commandments, gilded calves, God, faith, prophets and corrupt politics collide amongst rocking choir, yearning guitars and pounding rhythms.

Crow’s personal detour has led her along the path of a very public relationship with Lance Armstrong, the eventual public break-up of the same and a diagnosis of breast cancer. Now, as a cancer survivor and as a new mother Crow has a lot to crow about. That’s what makes Detours her best album in a career that has survived longer than most critics would have predicted. Obviously Ms. Crow is a woman of great stamina, passionate political beliefs and a deep and fervent faith.

Crow lays open her heart and soul on the title track, revealing her struggles with love and her subsequent fear of future relationships. “Now That You’re Gone,” “Drunk With the Thought of You” and “Make It Go Away" are classic lovelorn laments; “Diamond Ring” is as close to acrimonious as Crow gets, admitting that her request for commitment hurried the end of an affair. Unconditional love appears in response to her son. “Lullaby For Wyatt” brims with the pride and amazement of a new parent but even here Crow acknowledges that “love is letting go.”

Detours is full of biblical imagery and righteous wrath albeit from a left-leaning perspective. With “Love is Free” Crow comes up with a more imaginative way of tackling the issues surrounding the Katrina fiasco. Its happy jump rhythm suggests the joy of survival. “Peace Be Upon Us” smacks of Madonna’s “Ray of Light” complete with Eastern flavored arrangement and Arabic lyrics sung by Ahmed Al Hirmi. “Gasoline” documents environmental abuses and features Ben Harper. “Out of Our Heads” is universal call for unity. Despite the weight of the subject matter Detoursis a beautifully crafted pop-rock collection that overflows with buoyant melodies. Much credit is due to Crow’s reunion with producer Bill Bottrell who produced her breakthrough album Tuesday Night Music Club.

Many years ago, Crow, on tour in support of her debut release, stopped by WYEP’s studios. During that interview she talked about her upbringing in Missouri’s bible-belt culture and her enduring faith. Like many other artists Crow has found a comfortable way to place her spiritual beliefs along side her liberal politics. I’m not sure which has fueled the other but at the intersection of these values comes a fiery and immensely entertaining celebration of personal choice.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)