The breakout star of last night’s Rascal Flatts show at Burgettstown turns out to be someone who’s already had, in her own words, “a long career.” While the Flatts put on their usual slickly produced modern country / aw shucks revival spectacle, it was Ms. Crow’s opening hour-long set which made the price of admission seem cheap. By the time she came onstage, the sun’s last glow had all but dropped from the sky, and the massive crowd was in place, tailgating having wrapped up early due to the drizzle. If Crow thought “this is a perfect opportunity to blow the lid off this joint,” she was right. And she did.
It is no secret that Sheryl Crow has given up the pretense of being anything other than a country singer in recent years. Perhaps this is because country music has expanded to include her kind of sound in its ever-widening definition of the genre. Listening to her deliver classics from deep in her catalogue last night made The Inky Jukebox hear them in a new light, where they sounded fresh and relevant — the sing of a good song if ever there was one. In particular was an exquisite version of “Redemption Day,” which likely only those as old as Crow in the audience will recall from her early work, but which was recorded by Johnny Cash late in his life and only recently released. His vocal made an appearance for a verse, and it didn’t seem at all forced or sentimental. It was during this song that Crow also demonstrated one of what would be many subtle examples of her experience and professionalism as a performer, when she gentled the song down to whisper-level, the crowd completely rapt, before ramping it up with emotion once again.
It was this display of utter confidence as an entertainer that impressed and surprised The Inky Jukebox the most. Crow treads the stage with aplomb, and lets her astounding range and vocal acuity free to improvise the way good singers know they can, the band completely behind her. She plays a mean guitar, but a meaner harmonica. Oh Lordy, can she wield that thing like a blues master — at one point breaking “Best of Times" down into one long rollicking harmonica-driven train ride hurtling the song and the crowd down tracks to who knows where; no-one cared; it was great.
Crow appeared to really be having fun up there, and the crowd was on its feet dancing and applauding loudly after each song. She looked in fine form physically and stylistically too; many a younger female singer could take a page from her book. When she re-appeared later on to perform two songs with Rascal Flatts, she added a bit of much-needed sexy spark to what always feels a bit over-rehearsed when it comes to their “ad-lib” sections.
If you have the chance to go see her, do. She’s better in person that on record, which is saying something.