Perhaps because its been over a decade since Sheryl Crow has had a chart-topping, radio-dominating hit of any sort, it can be all too easy to forget that the Missouri-raised singer-songwriter is one of the great performers of the past quarter century. Such a grand claim might be difficult to make had the nine-time Grammy winner with over 50 million album sales to her credit disappeared after her career’s triumph-filled first decade.
Crow’s eleventh, and possibly final, if her recent hints prove to be true, album Threads, is a bold, compelling collection which serves to cement her place among the modern greats. Each of the album’s 17 songs features guest vocals and instrumental assistance from an immensely star-studded pool. And to be clear, this isn’t some sort of late-career “duets” record or tribute effort. Consisting almost entirely of new, Crow-penned material, the album offers engaging group efforts extending beyond simple re-worked versions of past Crow hits where a younger daring artist sings a couple of classic verses.
From a sheer timeline perspective, Crow fits comfortably in the middle in terms of being able to connect with legendary names with 50 years worth of history, or insurgent artists only now beginning to see their names in lights across the globe. On Threads, Crow creates with generational icons such as Willie Nelson, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Kris Kristofferson as authentically and entertainingly as she does with provocative younger talents such as Maren Morris, Jason Isbell, Gary Clark Jr., and Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent.
The first song from Threads hammers home Crow’s keen, connective ability. Featuring Morris and recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Stevie Nicks, the album “Prove You Wrong,” is a raucous, barn-burning country-rock tune that would’ve been a killer follow-up to “Picture,” Crow’s tear-jerking, instant-classic 2002 duet with Kid Rock. That this new song features another Rock Hall member, Joe Walsh on guitar, is amazingly nearly unnoticed.
Crow’s signature versatility is on brilliant display in a couple of vital ways, aside even from her seamless ability to work with the young and not-so-young. She rocks as effectively as she rolls.
In the funk-infused, groove-heavy “Story fo Everything,” rap titan Chuck D. of Public Enemy teams with Audra Day and her soaring voice, and Gary Clark Jr.s expertly bible blues-inflected guitar to a highly-pleasing effect. In the St. Vincent collaboration, “Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You,” tight beats and Clark’s scorching guitar licks offer another fine example of a song that might not have worked for Crow in the past, but in this moment, with this collaborator, it does so rather well.
On a similar note, in some case, the songs come out feeling like something Crow would’ve recorded by herself before. Co-written with Chris Stapleton, the moody, blues-esque “Tell Me When It’s Over,” carries a distinct “My Favorite Mistake” vibe with it, while “Redemption Day,” complete with vocals that Johnny Cash recorded shortly before his 2003 death was initially featured on Crow’s stellar 1996 self-titled album. Of course, the gravity Cash’s otherworldly tone and weight lends this new take is something to behold.
The varsity extends to Crow’s voice as well. “Nobody’s Perfect” features stunning harmonies with Emmylou Harris, while a gritty roadhouse soul permeates the Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples collab “Live Wire.” In the George Harrison-penned “Beware of Darkness,” grit and grace, salty and sweet meld together in the interplay between Crow and Brandi Carlile, while Eric Clapton’s trademark guitar licks float along.
Threads is indeed the ideal name for this album in that Crow’s voice and vision is a majestically unifying force for sounds, styles and even generations.