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Associated Press/Photo by Donald Traill

Crazy green

Music | Sheryl Crow may be demanding, but her new album is charming

Issue: "Rocks in their heads?," Sept. 11, 2010

In 2007, the pop singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow supplied pundits with abundant wisecrack material by proposing as "part of a solution to global warming" just "how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting."

A few days later, she said she was joking. Few believed her, but it was nice to know a celebrity capable of feeling embarrassment.

Apparently, she's over it. The Smoking Gun posted parts of the hospitality rider of Crow's current tour. Its "environmental portion" says that Crow and Reverb, the tour's "nonprofit environmental partner," will work to "minimize the overall environmental impact of our tour." In addition to insisting that "ALL disposable dinnerware be BIODEGRADABLE" and that "there [be] a recycling receptacle adjacent to every trash receptacle" backstage, Crow insists upon "post-consumer recyclable toilet paper" in the restrooms.

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The mind boggles. Where, for instance, do sellers of post-consumer toilet paper go for their raw materials? Will Crow and band actually refuse to perform if, her guitar-string-calloused fingertips notwithstanding, she detects noncompliance from the custodial staffs of America's larger concert venues? And will she put her not-unattractive face where her mouth is by agreeing to adorn, Wheaties-box style, the wrappers in which such products are packaged? How long until she insists that her fans drive to her concerts in discarded-kitchen-oil-fueled vehicles only?

Never mind that such demands reveal a level of hubris beside which Van Halen's notorious insistence on dressing-room M&Ms minus the brown ones looks almost self-abasing. Crow also seems oblivious to the considerable discrediting that the entire "green" movement has justifiably suffered. If she really cared about minimizing her footprint, she'd stop touring altogether.

Perhaps most mysterious of all is how someone who comes across so discombobulated in her touring demands can come across so charming on her albums. Her latest, 100 Miles from Memphis (A&M), is a perfect example. It's not quite the R&B album it's been touted as-even the faithful covers of Terence Trent D'Arby's "Sign Your Name" and Citizen Cope's "Sideways" sound more like slinkier versions of Crow's by-now distinctive pop stylings than a bid for acceptance by Urban radio.

But it isn't a failed experiment either. The nine songs that Crow either wrote or co-wrote with her co-producers Doyle Bramhall II and Justin Stanley amply demonstrate the benefits of having been born in 1962: coming of age when radio was exploding with the cross-pollinated, sumptuously produced funk, soul, and R&B of Motown, Stax/Volt, and Philadelphia International.

It's not surprising that Crow's first major (and no doubt eco-unfriendly) tour experience was as a background singer on Michael Jackson's worldwide 1988-'89 Bad excursion.

It is, in fact, her cover of the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back" that points up what keeps 100 Miles from Memphis if not 100 miles then at least a few yards from all-out soul: the girlishness of her voice. She sounds at 48 exactly like Michael Jackson at age 11.

And, like Jackson at 50, she has obviously learned a thing or two about making music as entertaining as her offstage comportment is bizarre.

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