The new records by radio icons Sheryl Crow and Cyndy Lauper showcase, no doubt, the singers’ deep desire to make soul and blues music for their aging audiences. Because both established long ago their stylistic ranges, both records come across as experimental self-indulgence. Each also slides into the odd ‘career move’ track of many an aging musician whose recognizable niche has lapsed.
Crow, when she stays in the range of mildly gritty L.A. folk-rock and pop, has proved an enduring hit maker. Lauper, who burst on the scene as a quirky singer of MOR rock melded with dance-pop, has, over the last ten years, wed her–nowadays–creaky soprano to a chameleon-like ability to tune into what’s left of radio-friendly pop trends.
Here both make left turns onto the soul road. It provides an object lesson in the risk of self-indulgence. I don’t like to thrash music on the blog, but Crow’s record, 100 Miles From Memphis, is excruciatingly mild and denatured. She doesn’t have a stirring voice, yet the problem is the gulf between the expert backing and her seemingly complete lack of feel for the material. When I finished listening to it, I thought, ‘Well, strip the vocals and you have an excellent karaoke bed.’ Too bad, Sheryl chose to lie in it. Stick with Nora Jones, folks.
Cyndy Lauper, on Memphis Blues, compensates for her own unlikely appropriation of bluesy material, by simply wailing through the tunes, and doing so with help from Allen Toussaint, B.B.King and Anne Peebles. The result is a mediocre soul/blues record, but a pretty good blast of Lauper having a bunch of fun. Her greater emphasis on a kind of blues party atmosphere helps. Enjoyable; I hope Cyndi got it out of her system.
Still, I think, ‘poor Memphis.’ Now, where did I put that Betty LaVette CD?