Sheryl Crow Talks All-Star 'Threads' Project & How Her Johnny Cash Duet Changed the Way She'll Release Music

Sheryl Crow
Dove Shore

Sheryl Crow

“Music really is the thread sometimes… to all of your experiences throughout your life,” Crow tells the Pop Shop Podcast about the power of music and her new album “Threads.”

Sheryl Crow’s new all-star collaborations album Threads is a full-circle moment for the singer-songwriter, as the nine-time Grammy Award-winner says she wanted to make an album “with the people that brought me to where I am now.” On the 17-song project, Crow is joined by more than 20 featured artists, including Brandi Carlile, Eric Clapton, Vince Gill, Kris Kristofferson, Maren Morris, Stevie Nicks and Keith Richards.

Threads has been years in the making, as the album “started probably a little over three-and-a-half years ago,” Crow tells Billboard’s Pop Shop Podcast (listen to the episode below). “Obviously, we took our time making the record.”

Beyond Threads’ featured artists, there are a bevy of notable names among the album’s liner notes – including Don Henley (who provides backing vocals on “Cross Creek Road”), multi-instrumentalist Greg Phillinganes, gospel quartet The McCrary Sisters, and guitarist Waddy Wachtel.

Threads has already made a splash on Billboard’s charts, debuting at No. 1 on the Americana/Folk Albums chart, as well as notching Crow her 11th top 40-charting effort on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart.

Below are some of the highlights from our interview with Crow – from what sparked the Threads project, to the “uncanny” power of music, working with Henley, and how a “profound” moment with Johnny Cash’s voice led to her deciding that Threads would be her “last full artistic statement” as an album.

On How Working With Kris Kristofferson Was the Genesis for Threads

“We didn't actually set out to make a record that was collaborations, but the impetus for the record was having recorded with Kris Krisofferson, shortly after the 40th anniversary of Austin City Limits (in 2014).

“Lisa, his wife, asked me if I would go in and record some of his material for him. I think many people know, particularly in the music community, that he has been diagnosed with either a tick-born dementia or maybe Alzheimer's, I'm not sure what the diagnosis ultimately wound up being. (He was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in 2016, but had previously been misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s.) But nonetheless, he wasn't making memories anymore.

“It struck me so, working with him, after having known him for nearly 25 years, and him having been such a profound inspiration for me as a songwriter, what struck was that music really is the thread, sometimes, or the tether to all of your experiences throughout your life. And particularly for him and his situation, it was his thread back to who he was.

“I mean, he could tell me all kinds of things about the way he recorded this, and what went down with that, you know from the '60s, '70s, even the '80s. But then he couldn't remember that we had just recorded something like five minutes ago. Just the physicality of music, and the inexplicable relationship that it has to, not only our brains but just our molecular makeup.

“Like Carlos Santana says, music really changes the molecules in all of us when we have an experience in music. And I wanted more of that, so I called Steve Jordan, who is a fantastic producer, but also a dear friend, and said, 'Look, I want more of these kinds of experiences with the people that brought me to where I am now.'”

On Memories of Being a Kid and Looking at Stevie Nicks on the Cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours Album and “Dreaming of Being That Someday”

“I can still feel the carpet under my elbows when I was a kid laying under the piano, looking at James Taylor's Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon and Carole King's Tapestry and reading the album credits, and listening and dreaming of that as a ticket out of my little hometown, which, you know, three stoplights, really the middle of nowhere. And looking at Stevie Nicks, in ballet slippers (on the Rumours album cover), and dreaming of being that someday. (Both Taylor and Nicks are featured on Threads.)

“And all of the experiences growing up, with all that music being the soundtrack to my life, and that is the story for all of us, I believe. No matter what the kind of music, no matter what the style of music is, music takes us back to important moments, or even the mundane moments in our lives. We can smell where we were, we can remember what we were wearing. It's just uncanny how music can do that. I don't know if there's anything else that can do that — that can take us back to a time and place the way that music does.”

Sheryl Crow and Don Henley have a long history together, dating back to when Crow provided backing vocals on Henley’s The End of the Innocence album in 1989. She later sang on his track “The Garden of Allah” in 1995, and then Henley appeared on Crow’s C’mon, C’mon album, singing with her on “It’s So Easy.” On Threads, Henley is back together with Crow, this time providing harmony vocals on “Cross Creek Road.” Notably, Henley isn’t billed as a featured artist on the track (though he is credited in the liner notes) despite the all-star featured act nature of the album. Here, Crow talks about why Henley was credited that way, and what he’s meant to her, and her career.

“That's what he asked for. He said, like, 'I don't want be featured, just list me as a backing vocalist.' And I get that. I totally get it. And I also want to honor everyone… He's really been there with me through the years. And he knows, and I even talk about it in the liner notes, how instrumental he was with my… not only getting a record deal, but really just thinking of myself as an artist, and not letting my songs go out to other people (to record)… I do think that he's got one of the most incredible voices that ever was. In whatever genre you're talking about, his voice transcends genre.”

On Why She Has Said Threads Will Be Her Final “Complete Artistic Statement” and That She’s “Done With Making Albums In Their Entirety”

“I'll tell you the experience with it. My experience was I was standing in the recording booth, and it was pretty late at night. I was trying to put my voice on 'Redemption Day' with Johnny (Cash). (Crow wrote and recorded “Redemption” originally as a solo song in 1996. Cash covered it in 2003, and it was released on his 2010 posthumous album American VI: Ain’t No Grave. On Threads, Crow created a virtual “Redemption” duet with Cash, singing along to his existing vocals.) And the way that I had it at that time was he was all the way through it, and I really didn't wanna sing on it. Steve kept saying, 'This is not the Johnny Cash record, this is the Sheryl Crow record, and you have to put your voice on it.'

“So I went in, and it was my third try on it, just trying to find my way in, and I was singing the song with him, and felt like I found my in. And I could hear him in my ears, and it just felt… it felt different for me. It felt profound. I felt… I mean, he just seemed so present in my ears and in the room, that when I was done with it, I told Steve, I said, 'I just feel like this is it.' I feel like I'm done with making albums in their entirety and I can rest easily now, knowing that I've made an album that, to me, is really the summation of my life. And, you know, never say never.

“I do think technology, the way that it is, you can spend a lot of time and emotion, and quite a lot of money as well, making albums, and then people don't listen to them — not only in their original form, but even as an album in its entirety.

“So, I feel like, in some ways, it's wonderful to go out with this being my last full artistic statement, but it's also in another way, liberating to say, 'OK, I'm going to write songs, that as they come, and as they feel timely, and important, I'll put them out, and I won't wait to make a complete artistic statement before I get to put something out.' So that's my story, and I'm sticking with it, at this moment. (Laughs.)”

The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard's weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard's senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)