Sheryl Crow’s last visit to Manchester accompanied the release of the criminally under-appreciated, country-themed record Feels Like Home. The 2014 show was therefore littered with a hefty spread of the album’s best cuts, of which there are many. The release represented a real high point in the re-emergence of the genre in the UK, coinciding with Dolly Parton’s barnstorming performance at Glastonbury a few months earlier. Sheryl Crow’s opinion of the record is debatable however and this evening’s show only allows just the one track from the album. When she introduces Best of Times it’s accompanied by a quip about her mother being the only person who bought the record. Despite these personal reservations, the song produces the absolute highlight of a hugely entertaining evening, with Crow and co. going off script, delivering a rip roaring jam that culminates with the fifty-five year old writhing on the stage as she plays her harmonica.
MacLeod kicks off proceedings in a very understated yet satisfying manner this evening. The Scottish singer-songwriter’s material betrays his musical upbringing, which weeps mournfully, seemingly inspired by the unforgiving and beautiful landscape of the Scottish islands that he calls home along with the “angry fisherman” that his core audience tended to include during his formative years. Amidst these acoustic yearnings we’re treated to a cultured rendition of Ring of Fire along with a sweet but unexpected A cappella version of one track that is the result of a brief power failure which Macleod is encouraged to continue with by a clearly engaged audience who are enjoying the melancholy atmosphere that this Isle of Lewis resident has generated.
Make no mistake about it, Sheryl Crow is a star. Platinum records, multiple Grammy’s and a thirty year plus career in the industry only tell half the tale of what this musician has achieved and it is always an absolute pleasure when she brings her show to Manchester. Her new album Be Myself is a return to the more familiar rock and roll territory of earlier records. Perhaps this is where she really feels like she’s home after her foray into the more country tinged material and tonight showcases many of the incredible tracks that can be found on this record.
Having said that, the evening starts with a retrospective blast from the past as we are treated to several of her biggest hits from the 90s. Everyday Is a Winding Road, A Change Would Do You Good, the irrepressible All I Wanna Do and the mysterious My Favorite Mistake all ensure that the evening starts in style. We get a taste of the new material next, starting with the album’s title track Be Myself, which is blessed with Sheryl Crow’s sun kissed melodies hiding something a bit more cynical. Long Way Back is a slow-burning bout that maintains the healthy cynicism that has manifested itself on the record, allowing Crow to gracefully shadow-box her misgivings into submission before launching into Alone in the Dark and the effortlessly cool Halfway There which simmers with real soul.
Spilling most of a pint all over the stage adds a light-hearted touch of levity to proceedings as she discusses the ‘places’ where many of the songs from the new record have emerged from, but these are also punctuated by healthy reminders of Sheryl’s previous hits. Peter Stroud’s infectious riff introduces the anthemic There Goes the Neighbourhood which is swiftly tempered by the acoustic tones of Leaving Las Vegas along with the fragility of Strong Enough. New track Heartbeat Away is cut from the same cloth as Neighbourhood however, and is enhanced even further by an immense chorus that Albert Hall can hardly contain, demonstrating Sheryl Crow’s clear penchant for rocking out which is finally confirmed when Best of Times evolves into the most thrilling of jams, proving that this enduring star has not only returned to what she does best. This is clearly what she loves the most!
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto