Today we look at Sheryl Crow's (arguably) finest work to date, "Wildflower". It came in 2005 as the flip side to the sunny-side-up sparkle and bounce of "C'Mon C'Mon". It is all somber and reflective touches, and only bright and sunny in glimpses. More importantly, it corrects a flaw of the previous album: where "C'Mon C'Mon" felt over-processed, "Wildflower" feels more organic, to the benefit of every song here.
Opener "I Know Why" is a perfect 50/50 blend - lamenting the reasons love fades away, but using an appreciative, thoughtful tone. "Perfect Lie" takes it down another notch - a low-key ode to a relationship that isn't working, and the denial of one who so desperately wants it to. Whether you've been in that situation before or not, the ache and confusion rings through in every last note. Following that is one of this disc's occasional bursts of sunshine - "Good is Good" is a mellow ballad extolling the virtues of remembering the good things in your life - even if it seems the good things to be had are few and far between.
From then on Sheryl switches into full-on haunting-vocals mode - the earthy "Chances Are" rolls along quietly - almost too quietly, as it blends into the title track "Wildflower". Here the focus is on love's beginning - the longing, the wondering, the first attraction the "I hope this turns into something" wonder and awe - and the simple instrumentation and delicate vocals provide the perfect backdrop for exploring these feelings.
The final half traffics in self-examination with "Letter to God" right before kicking into the sprightly "Live It Up", which is the faster cousin of "Good Is Good" - and that's certainly not a bad thing, nor does it sound repetitive for being so. This upbeat note is followed by more laments of failed loved, but this time with a bit more sting to them (see the slightly acid-tinged "I Don't Wanna Know") and artfully wraps it all up with a simple question in "Where has all the love gone?"
"Wildflower" works because it explores all the best and all the worst - and manages to do it over a reasonable running length that is not too short, not bloated, but just right - the goldilocks effect if you will. Sheryl has explored many flavors of traditional roots-rock since Tuesday Night Music Club. "Wildflower" makes a good case for taking the best pieces of each album before and putting them all together into one of her most consistent discs yet.