NASHVILLE, Tenn. For a couple of months, Sheryl Crow has been loading her two young boys aboard a bus and taking off on a tour of country music radio stations around the country.
She’s visiting with DJs and programming directors, playing a few songs live, then hopping back on the bus to do it again a few hours down the road. It reminds her, fittingly, of a scene from “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” the life story of Loretta Lynn.
“It really is like the scene where Doo zips up Loretta’s dress and she runs in with her new acetate, her 45, and says, ‘Here’s my new record,’ and she plays something on air, shakes a few hands and leaves,” Crow said. “It really is a throwback to that, and it’s the most organic thing I’ve done in years.”
The image is fitting. It was Lynn’s handwritten note asking Crow to appear with the honky-tonk queen on the 2010 Country Music Association Awards that started this journey toward the genre for the 51-year-old singer-songwriter. She has a single, “Easy,” at country radio and will release her first country-oriented album, “Feels Like Home,” on Sept. 10.
When Crow finished that performance with Lynn and Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley met her backstage and beseeched her to come home to the format where she really belonged. She’d had success at country, teaming with Kid Rock on “Picture” in 2002. The song was a modest hit.
Crow thought about it and Paisley’s message took hold. But it meant she would have to change and embrace Nashville’s country music culture. Eventually, he helped kick start the new record, suggested producer Justin Niebank and introduced her to songwriter Chris Dubois. She changed her songwriting tack, looking to match the visceral, story-telling style of the genre.
No one succeeds in country music without courting radio – thus the bus. Crow – 20 years after releasing her first album, the five times platinum “Tuesday Night Music Club” – didn’t see herself as exempt, no matter how many albums she’s sold.
The first day of radio tour she hit larger markets Knoxville and Chattanooga in Tennessee, Atlanta, Orlando, Fla., and some smaller towns, too.
“I say that it’s fun, but it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Crow said. “Because sitting on the bus and only getting the gratification of only playing like a couple of songs, and then driving for two more hours and then getting to play a couple more songs. It’s really hard, but it’s great, you know? … I’ve felt really embraced.”
T Bone Burnett, the “Nashville” musical director who worked with Crow on the Stephen King-John Mellencamp project “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” thinks her shift of focus is a natural.
“Well, she’s from Missouri – that’s just about as country as you can get,” Burnett joked. “So, I think she fits great, especially with what’s going on now in country music. At this point, she’s kind of a traditionalist in the country world.”
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