Singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow is one of the few artists to emerge in the first half of the 1990s who has continued to craft new material well into this decade that is still greeted with widespread commercial airplay and welcomed by mainstream audiences eager to hear her latest project.
In a two-hour headlining show Sunday night, Oct. 23, 2005 at the Hollywood Bowl, the nine-time Grammy winner delivered a generous retrospective of her hits-filled career while also casting the spotlight on her latest disc, "Wildflower."
That album, released Sept. 27, is filled with confessional tales focusing on her well-publicized romance with cyclist Lance Armstrong and larger explorations of the world such as her stirring, anti-war "Where has All the Love Gone" and her probing "Letter to God."
Performing more than 20 of her own songs and a few reworked covers by Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and Elton John, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter seemed genuinely delighted to be performing at the fabled Hollywood Bowl, proclaiming during her encore, "It's so nice to come back and play in your back yard."
Backed by her four-member band and a large string section under the direction of David Campbell, Crow used the concert as a showcase for her skills as a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who moved from guitar to bass to piano throughout the night.
The bad news for the enthusiastic audience was not Crow's choice of material or her performance, but rather the sound itself.
The band (drums, guitars, bass, keyboards) continuously drowned out the string section (which featured more than a dozen musicians), except in the quietest moments.
So while a countrified take on Dylan's "Mississippi" and her own "Strong Enough" were clearly enhanced by strings in the overall mix, they sounded muddled on straightforward rockers such as "If It Makes You Happy" and "My Favorite Mistake."
And, during many songs, such as the reworking of Stevens' "First Cut is the Deepest," the additional musicians simply came off like window dressing.
However, there is no doubt that the majority of fans came to hear Crow deliver her collection of hits, and she did not disappoint.
Many in the audience sat politely through much of the concert, but became more animated and enthusiastic when she performed titles such as "All I Wanna Do," "A Change Will Do You Good" and "Soak Up the Sun."
Show opener Gavin DeGraw is clearly looking to position himself as an artist who can carve out a lasting career in the tradition of Crow.
His seven-song set, highlighted by material such as the emotive "Crush" and accessible "Chariot," pleased many in the crowd, especially when the young singer-keyboardist ventured into the audience.
While songs such as "Chemical Party" and his biggest hit, "I Don't Want to Be," were delivered with zest, his sonic approach clearly recalls artists such as Maroon 5, Train and Billy Joel, and time will tell if he is able to develop a sound he can truly call his own.