"Now that I'm in my 40s, it's much easier to be an artist," Sheryl Crow says. "It's good knowing that I'm not in the game to be competing with really young groups of kids on the radio. Or to, you know

"Now that I'm in my 40s, it's much easier to be an artist," Sheryl Crow says. "It's good knowing that I'm not in the game to be competing with really young groups of kids on the radio. Or to, you know, make 'beat' music."

With youthful, sunny singles like "Soak Up the Sun" and mature, wistful melodies in such hits as "If It Makes You Happy," 43-year-old Crow has already proved she can successfully compete with artists from across the popular music spectrum. Filling the three-year gap since her last studio effort, she took time off and headed to Spain, to write and to determine her next move.

The result: the introspective "Wildflower" (due Sept. 27) and leadoff single "Good Is Good," which is No. 11 on the Billboard Adult Top 40 airplay chart.

Crow originally intended to release what she called an "art" record and a "pop" record this year. After putting down the initial tracks, she decided to combine elements of both, recruiting the talents of hot producer John Shanks, as well as longtime collaborator Jeff Trott, to keep her gentle songs grounded with string-filled orchestrations and upbeat production. Trott also co-wrote a number of tracks, including "Good Is Good."

"I had good intentions to do both [albums], and I started feeling like 'Wildflower' was that art album. But then I thought that any pop songs I did after that would make it overlooked," Crow says.

Audiences first heard "Good Is Good" earlier this summer when Crow was tapped by computer maker Dell to appear in its TV commercials.

Between her last studio effort, "C'mon C'mon," and this year's output, Interscope released "The Very Best of Sheryl Crow" in 2003. That title, bolstered by her smash cover of "The First Cut Is the Deepest," has sold more than 3.4 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

"I didn't let the fact that I was putting out a greatest-hits record mid-career bog me down," Crow says, "but I didn't think it would do so well. In a weird way, it gave me the freedom to do this record, a real opportunity to make a record that I really felt. Basically, your life informs your art, and I'm at a different part of my life. I'm not interested in making a bunch of 'Soak Up the Suns.'"

A public romance and recent engagement to superstar athlete Lance Armstrong has increased her visibility and, according to Crow, has also provided fodder for her songwriting. Much of "Wildflower" addresses their romance with happy tones and cautious detail, without flaunting publicly what they wish to keep private.

"I try not to edit myself too much, but I don't want to worry about what people will think of me if I leave everything in," she says. "Some people rely on selling everything based on celebrity. He and I are really careful about how we conduct our lives and what we let people be privy to."

Intimacy and meditative lyricism dominate "Wildflower," which Crow considered releasing as a quiet, raw affair, with only her and her guitar.

"I just feared a little on how people would receive it," she says. "When I write a record, I'm thinking in an arc. Right now, this is where I am. I'd like to take the listener on some kind of travel with me, and to me, I wasn't making a hit record."

As previously reported, Crow hopes to continue the tender nuance through a string of unique concert events in October. Heading out with her band and a 12-piece string section conducted by David Campbell, she will perform new material as well as older songs on an eight-date trek.

She will continue to tour next spring with a smaller string section for more extensive dates. This fall, she has scheduled appearances on "Good Morning America," "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," "The View," "Late Show With David Letterman" and "The Early Show."





Excerpted and expanded from the Oct. 1, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.

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