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Friday, Nov. 7, 2008
Few stars in the history of pop music can make as legitimate a claim to paying their dues as Sheryl Crow. Having spent the 1980s in the Los Angeles backup-singer trenches (ad jingles, two years touring with Michael Jackson) and hawking songs to the likes of Wynonna Judd and Celine Dion, she was repeatedly frustrated in her own ambitions to be a solo performer. Then, when she finally got a break in 1991, her management made her record an LP she couldn't stand. Eventually, she fell in with some margin-dwelling musicians who helped her record her genuine debut, 1993's "Tuesday Night Music Club," which went on to win a truckload of Grammys and made Crow rich and famous at the age of 32.
Over 15 years and five more studio albums, the Missouri native has come to represent all that's appealing and unhip about classic rock.
When she was toiling as an industry drone she resisted its attempts to turn her into a dance-pop queen or a ballad chanteuse. The singer-songwriters she listened to as a teenager were artists who traded in authenticity, and, in trying to live up to that standard, her own compositions can sometimes sound pretentious and over-earnest. This tendency can be most apparent in her lyrics, which sometimes seem to spring from a thesaurus rather than from experience or inspiration. But the dues-paying did bear real fruit in terms of song-craft and a genuine feeling for how to put a tune over in front of a crowd.
Perhaps her best album is the one that sold the fewest copies, 1999's "Live in Central Park," a victory-lap project that included input from classic rockers such as Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Stevie Nicks. These guests' enthusiasm for the material is infectious, as is the audience's response to solid songs played with skill and verve. It pays to know what you like.
Sheryl Crow plays Dec. 10 at Osaka Koseinenkin Kaikan (7 p.m.;  6341-4506); and Dec. 11-12 at JCB Hall, Tokyo (7 p.m.;  09-3333). All shows ¥7,500-¥8,500.