Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sheryl Crow, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real concert review: Los Angeles, Calif.

photo: Mark Seliger/courtesy Warner Bros.
On “Be Myself,” the infectious title track to Sheryl Crow’s latest album, she sings, “If I can’t be someone else/I might as well be myself.” Although it’s about today’s hipsters, the sentiment could also apply to the approach Crow took to making her new music.

Following impressive, but somewhat overlooked forays into country and old Memphis-style soul music, the veteran singer/songwriter went back and re-listened to successful Nineties efforts like “Sheryl Crow” and “The Globe Sessions” to rediscover what made them click. Then she reteamed with longtime collaborator Jeff Trott.

The pair co-produced and played most instruments on “Be Myself” and got their old friend, studio whiz Tchad Blake, back to mix it. What results in an earthy vibe, expansive sonic blend and topical lyrics (social media, presidential election) which makes it stand among Crow’s best albums to date.

Thursday night at the Greek Theater, Crow and her solid six-piece band kicked off a strong, nearly two-hour concert with “Everyday is a Winding Road.” She sported a wide smile and t-shirt that read “lover,” while drummer Fred Eltringham’s read “peace.” The slinky groove on “A Change Would Do You Good,” like many other tunes played in Los Angeles, was extended without becoming self-indulgent. Their spirited delivery on big ’94 hit “All I Wanna Do” was an early highlight and the line “this is L.A.” received a loud cheer from the crowd.

Tasty dual electric guitar work from tour mainstays Audley Freed and Peter Stroud elevated the late 1960s/early ‘70s Stones feel of “My Favorite Mistake” and “There Goes the Neighborhood” (the latter with a quick vocal nod to Mick & Keith’s “Heartbreaker”).

Before “Be Myself,” Nashville resident Crow gave a shout out to Stanley Cup playoff team the Predators and joked about it being a “great day with the Jim Comey playoffs” (referring to the ex-FBI director’s congressional testimony).

The set’s half dozen new songs fit well with older material - especially sinewy midtempo rocker “Halfway There,” which revolves around both political sides finding common ground (guitarist Gary Clark Jr. guests on the studio version) - and the ominous “Heartbeat Away” (as in a leader “with his finger on the button”).

Crow was in a congenial mood throughout; she teased a bit of Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” amid “Can’t Cry Anymore,” but forgot the lyrics. Instead, the singer did some high trills. Fans responded wildly to pleasant Cat Stevens ballad “The First Cut is the Deepest,” but were subdued for a laid back, spacey version of “Leaving Las Vegas,” where Crow did an interpretive dance and said, “I used to be a dancer. That’s an alternative fact.”

During the final stretch, Crow’s harmonica work on the bluesy stomp “Best of Times” was fantastic. Trott joined in on guitar for “If It Makes You Happy” and closer “Soak Up the Sun” was pure fun. Lukas Nelson, who opened the show with his band Promise of the Real, appeared with Crow for a fine encore duet of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider.”

Nelson and company’s 50-minute warm up set of self-described “cowboy hippie surf rock” was riveting as Willie’s son sang soulfully and immersed himself in frequent guitar solos. Standouts included the organ-drenched “Four Letter Word,” the lurching “High Times” (which name checks CNN and Fox News), dreamy affecting ballad “Forget About Georgia” and the catchy, harmony-rich “Find Yourself.” An inspired closing take on Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes” prompted dancing and went down a storm.

A version of my review originally appeared on and various other Southern California News Group web sites.

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