“It’s hard to make a stand,” sings Sheryl Crow on her recent, self-produced sophomore A&M album, telling a provoking tale of soul-searching and survival. But the words also fit much of Crow’s music, a simple yet hard-to-pin-down blend of country, rock and R&B styles that, for all its sympathetic characters and moving tales of the American struggle, ultimately reveals little about Crow herself.
Although the concert stage might offer some insight into Crow, she and her bluesy band struggled to maintain any sustained feedback from the mostly seated audience, never shedding any light on the motivation for and experiences that led to such poignant tunes as “Everyday Is a Winding Road” and “If It Makes You Happy” or “Run Baby Run” and “No One Said It Would Be Easy,” from her 7-million-selling A&M debut. “I think everyone should stand up and shake their ass,” cheered Crow, following a particularly smoky version of “Leaving Las Vegas.” But she should have followed her own advice and come out of her own onstage shell: She was never this reserved when she led her old Tuesday Music Club band through explosive club shows.
The most exciting moments came during the three-song encore with guest Emmylou Harris; their a mesmerizing duet on Lou Reed’s “Pale Blue Eyes” showed Crow letting her guard down and singing with inspiration. The bottom line is that without more personable and affecting performances lifted from Crow’s heart and soul — and not from her show-business head — her concerts will never live up to the material found on her impressive albums.