2010 07 20Sheryl Crow grew up near Memphis, long enough ago to know the tradition of Stax/Volt and Hi Records firsthand – those labels' fusion of R&B, rock and country has always informed her best music – so the ease she brings to this explicit tribute isn't surprising. Her smoky rasp is thinner than many who've plowed these fields, but Crow is a hook-miner, and her phrasing is tough and sexy enough to put the material over. On "Stop," a string-bolstered heartache ballad, she works some Aretha-style drama. And when, on the bouncy "Peaceful Feeling," she suggests, "Let's dance to the music, baby," her barroom-queen swagger is enough to get you digging for jukebox quarters.
The arrangements, shaped by co- producer Doyle Bramhall II, are refreshingly impure: This isn't an archeology dig. On "Eye to Eye," abetted by Keith Richards, Crow rides a muscular reggae groove with brass à la Toots Hibbert's Toots in Memphis. "Say What You Want" is a funky Sarah Palin bitch slap ("I heard you tell me to reload. . . . Someone unplug the microphone"). Justin Timberlake appears on the Al Green-ish Terence Trent D'Arby tune "Sign Your Name." And on the bonus cover of "I Want You Back," Crow's impression of Michael Jackson – who supplied her first big break by hiring her as a background singer – is so accurate it's chilling.