Sheryl Crow has enjoyed a quietly consistent third decade as a singer-songwriter, earning a Top Ten for her 2013 country debut Feels Like Home and a flurry of critical acclaim for her most recent effort, 2017’s aptly-titled Be Myself.
Threads, a sprawling, star-studded seventeen song album featuring everyone from Chuck D to Vince Gill, serves, then, as a victory lap of sorts. Crow has even said it will be her last full-length record. At its best, Crow’s recent work highlights the way the 57 year-old singer can draw out energy and excitement in both herself and the vocalists who accompany her. Indeed, many of the most successful moments here come in the form of old-fashioned duet ballads, from the piano-pop elegance of “Don’t,” her collab with folk-pop act Lucius, to the fragile confessionals with Willie Nelson (“Lonely Alone”) and Emmylou Harris (“Nobody’s Perfect” ). Songs like “Tell Me When It’s Over” and “Prive You Wrong,” meanwhile, show how Crow’s knack for writing roots-based pop-rock has only deepened over time.
Crow is in the midst of a much-deserved critical renaissance, as indicated by the league of new artists like Maggie Rogers and Phoebe Bridgers who cover her music as well as the cadre of young songwriters (Maren Morris, St. Vincent) who appear on this generation-spanning collection. But too often does Crow treads into the type of anodyne Grammy Awards tribute-channeling collaboration that have plagued the singer’s mid-career. Originals like “Still The Good Old Days” (ft. Joe Walsh) and “Story of Everything” (ft. Andra Day, Gary Clark, and Chuck D) devolve into blues-lite riffing, while star-studded covers of George Harrison’s “Beware of Darkness” (Sting, Brandi Carlile) and Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken” (Jason Isbell) simply fall flat.
The special-guests duets record is a famously fraught exercise, one that’s almost predestined to be bogged down by its own attention-grabbing premise. Threads hardly escapes that predicament, but it’s filled with enough solid songcraft to make one hope that Crow isn’t, in fact, truly done with record making for good.