Sheryl Crow's unreleased first album from 1992

When I watch a rock documentary about a certain artist, I wait to see if some attention is given to a forgotten rarity that the artist once recorded, even if it only gets a few seconds of screen time. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I watched Sheryl, the Showtime network’s new documentary about Sheryl Crow, and I didn’t hear one word mentioned about the real first album Crow recorded in the early ‘90’s – which was never released. It certainly seemed odd for the program to not acknowledge this event in Crow's life at all. Then again, the main purpose of Sheryl seems to be to raise the singer's current profile, and to boost sales and streaming of her music, particularly the new tie-in compilation Sheryl: Music From The Feature Documentary. So, from the documentary filmmakers' point of view, it apparently made no sense to inform the audience about a Crow album which has never been commercially available.

After Crow began her career in the late '80's as a back-up singer for (among others) Michael Jackson and Don Henley, she achieved her own stardom with her multi-platinum debut album Tuesday Night Music Club, which was released in 1993. But Crow actually recorded an earlier album in 1991, which was intended for release as her debut album in September of 1992. Neither Crow nor her label, A&M Records, were happy with the finished album. Neither party felt that its slick pop sounds represented Crow as an artist, and the album was shelved. However, this unreleased self-titled Sheryl Crow album (not to be confused with her eponymous 1996 sophomore release) was briefly circulated by A&M in ’92 as a promo cassette. The album remains unreleased three decades later, but it was naturally much-bootlegged after Crow’s success.

The music on this album sounds very different than the genre-blending music that Crow would later become known for. It was co-produced by Crow with Hugh Padgham, who was known for producing mega-selling ‘80’s albums by Genesis and The Police, as well as solo albums by Phil Collins and Sting. The Sheryl Crow album was given the type of high gloss that Padgham had imparted to Collins and Genesis in the mid-‘80’s, loaded with heavy synthesizer sounds and exaggerated reverb. Crow’s vocals were smoothened and sweetened for pop-singer presentability, in contrast to the more natural delivery found on most of her works. The polished presentation made many of the songs sound as though they were designed for movie soundtracks; in fact, one of them – the weak power-ballad “Hundreds Of Tears” – appeared on the soundtrack for Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 action thriller Point Break, in slightly longer form. The unreleased Sheryl Crow album is easy on the ears, but feels somewhat hollow at its core. Crow made the right decision in turning away from this album’s synth-pop, which was on its way out of fashion at the time, and instead pursuing the adult-alternative direction of the prosperous Tuesday Night Music Club.

The songwriting on this album is less sophisticated than that of much of Crow’s later work. Crow co-wrote all of the songs here, but found better partners to write with later. The lyrics of “All Kinds Of People” and “Love You Blind” have the sort of neo-hippie vibe that Lenny Kravitz was into at the time. If the lyrics of “Father Sun” are to be taken literally, the song seems to be about sun worship. That song was also recorded – and done better – by Wynonna Judd in 1993. “All Kinds Of People” is not the same song that Crow recorded many years later for the various artists benefit album Marlo Thomas and Friends: Thanks & Giving in 2004. However, this unreleased album’s “All Kinds Of People” was later recorded by Tina Turner and also by the Christian country singer Susan Ashton, both in 1996; Ashton also covered “Hundreds Of Tears” the same year.

Among the Sheryl Crow album’s high points are “Near Me” and “The Last Time”, which could almost pass for songs from Tuesday Night Music Club if they had just a bit less shine on ‘em. “I Will Walk With You” comes across like Nick Of Time-era Bonnie Raitt, with tasteful Gospel and soul flavoring. “What Does It Matter” features background vocals by Don Henley, on whose The End Of The Innocence tour Crow had sung background vocals. (The promo cassette copies of Sheryl Crow came with a press release from A&M Records, with a blurb from Henley stating: “She's one of the best female singers there is right now. Period, bar none”). A vaguely Clapton-like guitar sound gives a boost to “Love You Blind”. And it’s nice to hear Sheryl rocking out a little on “You Want It All”.

Footnote: A Crow song titled “Welcome To The Real Life” was used in the 1991 Brian Bosworth action movie Stone Cold. That song was reportedly an outtake from the sessions for this unreleased Sheryl Crow album.

Sheryl Crow “Sheryl Crow” (A&M promo cassette 75021 5393 4) 1992

Track Listing:

1. All Kinds Of People
2. Father Sun
3. What Does It Matter
4. Indian Summer
5. I Will Walk With You
6. Love You Blind
7. Near Me
8. When Love Is Over
9. You Want It All
10. Hundreds Of Tears
11. The Last Time
12. On Borrowed Time

Sheryl Crow - The Unreleased Album

This is the common cover art for a bootleg CD of the album which began circulating in or around 1997. The sound on this pirate CD is surprisingly good.