"Detours," says Sheryl Crow, "help you remember who you are, and they inform you as to where you've gotten away from yourself."
Munching on a bowl of nuts in a Boston hotel room prior to a performance at a convention last week, the 45-year-old new mom is talking about what it means to get off-track. But Crow's strong, eclectic new album, "Detours," out today, is filled with optimism about finding a way to correct her course.
"I think hope is the big word," she says of the album, which finds her contemplating everything from the political fallout of the war in Iraq to the emotional fallout of receiving and returning diamond rings. "I don't have any anger or bitterness or vengeful feelings about where we are as a nation or what happened to me in my personal life."
And over the past three years, plenty has happened in her personal life in a very public way. The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter ended her engagement to Lance Armstrong, was treated for breast cancer, and adopted her son, Wyatt. Yet she says she came to her sense of calm by giving herself up to the "pain, sadness, confusion, and grief" of her break-up and cancer treatment instead of diving right into her troubles as a songwriter.
"The best way to create expansion in your life is to experience your emotions, work through them, and be done with them so it creates space for new experience and to not be constantly distracting yourself with tabloid magazines and reality TV shows and 24 hours of somebody talking about the news. When I came out of that, I felt like, 'OK, now I'm ready to actually sit down and write.' "
And write she did, with a distance and perspective that she says "enable me to not have to be a tell-all, and I'm not interested in that, anyway."
But Crow, now cancer-free, does tell plenty on "Detours," including her consternation at a "war based on lies" in the tender, acoustic opener, "God Bless This Mess," or starkly remembering her roiling emotions at her diagnosis on "Make it Go Away (Radiation Song)."
While the album is split between observation and introspection, Crow attributes its urgency to the arrival of Wyatt, who is cooing in the next room.
"We've let so much go by as far as our environment goes. We've let so much go by in the last seven years that our reputation in the world is so damaged, while we've been distracting ourselves or dulling ourselves out," she says. "But when you have a baby, all of sudden it becomes personal."
Reuniting with producer Bill Bottrell, who worked on her smash 1993 debut album, "Tuesday Night Music Club," was a freeing experience for Crow, which is clear from the musical explorations on "Detours." Normally a straight-ahead rock classicist, the Missouri native veers into Latin and Gypsy rhythms for the rollicking "Out of Our Heads," celebrates the heartiness of New Orleans with the reggae lilt of "Love Is Free," dips a toe into liquid '70s soul on the liberation anthem "Now That You're Gone," and even does a duet in Arabic with Ahmed Al Hirmi over the loose but crisp global grooves of "Peace Be Upon Us."
"I think for the first time on a record I didn't get into the critical angle of 'I can't really do this because it's not my style,' " she says. "It was really about the song and the meaning, like a Bob Marley tune. He was one of the greatest folk singers. Whether you qualify it as reggae or not, the whole thing was he was a messenger, so how you get the message out, for me, is paramount. I've been really quick to judge myself in the harshest of ways, so this record was more of a really, really joyful adventure."