Sheryl Crow Moves Closer to Country

First Single From Her Upcoming Album Is "Easy"

Editor’s note: Watch the Sheryl Crow interview in the new episode of CMT Hot 20 Countdown premiering Saturday (Feb. 23) at 11:30 a.m. ET/PT.

The country music influences that have underscored some of Sheryl Crow ’s finest work are about to become even more pronounced on the new album she’s recording for Warner Music Nashville.

The truth is that Crow’s country radio airplay dates back to 2002 with her collaboration with Kid Rock on “Picture,” followed by her solo version of Cat Stevens’ “The First Cut Is the Deepest” and her contributions to Brooks & Dunn ’s “Building Bridges” and Vince Gill ’s “What You Give Away.”

In January, she premiered “Easy,” the first single from her upcoming country project, on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Her record label will begin seeking radio airplay for the track on March 11.

During a recent film shoot for her new music video, Crow talked to CMT Hot 20 Countdown correspondent Allison DeMarcus about the next chapter in her career.

CMT: Tell us about “Easy.”

Crow: Well, it’s funny. There for a while — and actually I think still — a lot of country artists write about or have been writing about like going away to Mexico or the Caribbean.

You’ve seen Kenny Chesney ’s new album.

Toby Keith , Alan Jackson … and I love all those songs, but my little brother’s my gauge, and he’s like, “We can’t afford to go to the Caribbean!” And I was like, “OK, let’s write a song about ’staycation’ — about staying home when you can’t afford to go to the Caribbean or wherever or on your yacht. And making your home feel like you’re getting away. And that’s what it’s about.

This is really your first full country album. Did you start out intending to go that route, or did it just feel like it fit the format when you got into things?

I’ve always said that country is the only place where you can hear a guitar solo. And when I first got started 20 years ago — I can’t even believe it’s been 20 years — we had big kind of country-rock songs like “If It Makes You Happy” and “Strong Enough to Be My Man” and “Everyday Is a Winding Road” — stuff that could be played at radio now. I moved to Nashville going on eight years ago, and it just seemed like the format I guess I belong in in some ways. It’s very song oriented, very musician oriented, song structure, lyric, storytelling and so … my hope is that people don’t feel like I’m carpet-bagging or, you know, like I’m getting in on something.

I think if you’ve been here eight years, you’re gonna be OK. You’ve done so much already in country music.

Actually, it’s funny cause my early stuff just felt like I was trying to do the Rolling Stones doing country music — like Let It Bleed and Exile — so that was my stretch. So now we’re just more deliberate. It’s a more deliberate record.

You talked a little bit about when you started 20 years ago. What do you think has really changed in the pop music culture, and did that play into you doing a country album?

I think the biggest thing that’s changed is the kind of overnight success that you can have now. And not that that’s bad or good, but you can get so much more exposure and notoriety with TV the way that it is. When I first started out, VH1 and MTV were up and running and having success … but, really, aside from late night talk shows, that was about all the exposure you could get. So what you did was, you went out and toured. And you toured and you toured, and then my story was that I wound up winning some Grammys, and that got us a lot of notoriety. We went back out on the road with the first record, and then we started getting all the late night stuff, Saturday Night Live. But it was different back then because you honed your craft, and you discovered who you were out on the road and in clubs before 10 people, a hundred people, a thousand people.

Instead of before 30 million.

Yeah, yeah, exactly.

You just finished being a mentor with Blake Shelton on The Voice. Tell me about that process and how you chose Blake over Adam Levine.

Actually, Blake chose me. Adam, I feel, missed out on having my expertise there. I can’t believe they’re gonna be able to use any of what Blake and I did together because it’s so PG rated. He has the most wicked sense of humor. … I was laughing the whole time, but it was really, really funny. I will say that Blake is so good. He loves country music. He so appreciates people that love country music. He doesn’t necessarily want to turn everybody into a country singer … but he can hear when somebody has a flair for that. And he gives great advice, and I loved working on it. It was a blast. And I like that show because you start off even keel. It doesn’t matter what you look like, and so it was a lot of fun.

What was the hardest thing for you being a mentor?

The hardest thing for me about being a mentor was that I didn’t get to stay for the rest of the season. I could only be there for the two days that I was there. Because once you get invested in these kids, you just want to be there every night. … I can see why these judges on the panel are so emotional about who they choose. You love these kids, and they walk out and, gosh, they’re so professional already. Much more professional than I would have been! Blake and I were like, “Neither one of us could have ever done this.” … You have to really have a lot of composure.

What is your advice to somebody who comes out of that type of situation versus a more traditional one like you came out of?

It’s hard to advise in that type of situation because they’re part of a machine before the show is even over. I haven’t seen anyone come out of The Voice who’s had big success like Carrie Underwood or like Kelly Clarkson . I would say that in the instances that people who have taken off, there’s just been something special about them. It’s undeniable, and one way or another, they would’ve made it.

Advice? I don’t know that I have any. I always tell anybody who wants to be a musician, “Get into your craft and love the process — not the outcome of it — because if you don’t love the process, it can be very tiring and very demoralizing.” You really have to love the growing process, and that’s one of the great things about touring and about getting started the way I did. Is that I just felt like I was getting better and better. I still feel that way. I still feel like my best work is ahead of me, and that’s what keeps me excited.