The ways that Sheryl Crow spins sunshine and good times into her songs are important to note, but it's when she gets sad and lonesome that she's always been at her finest. Crow, who without question has been one of the best American voices of the past 20 years, since the release of her debut "Tuesday Night Music Club" in 1993, is greatest not when she's singing about liking a good beer buzz early in the morning or jetting off for a vacation in Mexico (of which all have their own merits - in that no shoes, no problem, summertime bliss kind of way), but when she takes on the heartache. It's when it all rubs raw where Crow is spectacular. When she sings "Strong Enough," a song about a night or nights that are going to feel like hell and a woman who's looking for an honorable man to be with her through them, it goes right to your gut. It socks you a good one, right in a spot where - brace for it all you like - you'll still only barely dull the effects of the blow. You'll take it and you'll survive it - just as you believe the woman in the song gets through those painful nights, wondering what's to become of her. It reinvigorates you, though, the pain that Crow brings to mind.
On this session, taped last week in Nashville, she introduces four brand new songs, one of which, "Easy," falls into that sunshine-y category, and the others more into the woe department. "Calling Me When I'm Lonely" is the best of the bunch and a thematic contemporary to "Strong Enough." It's a song that begins with a snow falling outside a winter, a woman chased inside because of the cold and suddenly she's wasted on the kind of self-pity that's only natural, that can get to anyone at any time. The conditions are such that it's gotten to that point here and the woman is at her most vulnerable. She knows that she's weak and she knows that she'll take anything that comes along, anything that wants her, even one of those poor excuses of a man that she's already vetted, that she's already told herself that she'll never let back in. Suddenly, the phone begins to ring at just the moment when her guard's down the most and she's likely to believe the same old bullshit all over again, against all of her best judgment. It's one of those moments when everyone's thinking to themselves that they'd never do such a thing, knowing well enough that they're only kidding themselves.
Crow's songs tend to be about people who aspire to strength, who believe that it's in them. We all think those things. We believe that we will find love and that we will sense when we're making bad decisions with it - when it's getting the better of us - and still, we all recognize that we're some horribly weak creatures. We will battle our loneliness as best as we can and we will fight for love and happiness, or flashes of them both on our best of days, but it's always going to be damned hard.