Sheryl Crow at Strathmore

IF IT MAKES HER HAPPY. . . it can't be that bad, right? Crow mostly played tunes from her R& B-inspired "Memphis" CD.
IF IT MAKES HER HAPPY. . . it can't be that bad, right? Crow mostly played tunes from her R& B-inspired "Memphis" CD. (Evy Mages For The Washington Post)

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By Dave McKenna
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 1, 2010

Before Sheryl Crow took the stage at Strathmore for Wednesday's show, roadies cranked up some smoke machines in hopes of giving the room a bluesy ambiance. But puffs of fake smoke couldn't turn this ornate concert hall into a blues room any more than a new band and record could turn Crow into an R&B belter.

Crow is on the road promoting the CD "100 Miles From Memphis," a tribute to the soul stylings of '60s and '70s pop. The disc's title refers to the distance between Crow's Missouri home town and the Tennessee R&B capital and is intended to add credibility to her latest project, the way a kid reared in Beverly Hills might title a rap debut "Just a Short Drive From Compton!" Material from the new record dominated the nearly two-hour set. Crow opened with "Our Love Is Fading," which cops its key lyrics from Norman Whitfield's "(I Know I'm) Losing You," a Temptations smash, and Holland-Dozier-Holland's "Keep Me Hangin' On." The musical backing from Crow's fine nine-piece band was similarly referential.

Crow has a right to get bluesy: She battled cancer and a tabloid dumping courtesy of Lance Armstrong at around the same time. But, plainly, she's got a distaff version of the John Mayer Problem: She's too good-looking to pull off the Blues Sister act. "You know I ain't no beauty queen!" Crow shrieked while rendering the new CD's title track. For better or worse, Sheryl, we know nothing of the kind. During a roughed-up version of her 1995 single "I Can't Cry Anymore," Crow yelled, "You ain't gonna see me look at my BlackBerry all day long waitin' for good news!" Tough to imagine Big Mama Thornton or Janis Joplin belting out that line.

Near night's end, Crow threw in a few of the catchy smashes that afforded her the freedom to try this crazy career switch, including "If It Makes You Happy" and "All I Wanna Do," and Crow led the crowd on a singalong of the latter's chorus -- "All I wanna do is have some fun!" That line provides the only acceptable excuse for her new shtick.

McKenna is a freelance writer.

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