CD Review: Sheryl Crow

Detours A&M
Music •••½ Sound •••½

Born of equal parts personal drama and global turmoil, Detours isn't the first CD you'll think to grab if you're heading out to soak up the sun. This is Sheryl Crow's first album since being treated for breast cancer. Not surprisingly, it's a sobering set of songs about coming to terms with bunches of bad things: the war in Iraq ("Peace Be Upon Us"), environmental cataclysm ("Gasoline"), lovelorn grief (the title track), and loneliness ("Now That You're Gone") - and, oh yeah, in "Make It Go Away (Radiation Song)," the fear that accompanies a cancer diagnosis.

But because Crow embraces life and resistance, and also because she's a damn fine songwriter, this isn't a maundering laundry list of ills. To the contrary, it makes you want to rise above your circumstances, however dire. Determination trumps resignation in "Shine Over Babylon," whose chorus beats back the carnage of the verses. Another song, about Hurricane Katrina, turns out to be not a lament but a sing-along, which posits a kind of utopia where "Love Is Free," a currency worth more than money. Crow gives a bracing jolt to these and other songs. And her reunion with producer/mixer/engineer Bill Bottrell - their first collaboration since 1993's Tuesday Night Music Club - doesn't hurt, either, as he helps bring out the best in Crow's vital material and sound.

Things can get too jaunty, as in "Out of Our Heads," a would-be anthem whose sensibility is somewhere between faux Bob Marley and that old Coke commercial about teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony. Still, Crow's skillful deployment of words and tunes on most of Detours serves to illuminate our times, and her life, with unflinching candor and captivating music.

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