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Peer inside the liner notes for Sheryl Crow’s 1996 self-titled sophomore album and have a go at that luridly incandescent snapshot: There she is, slinking away from a double-wide trailer that’s in need of a burial more than a bath. There she is, criss-crossing her ankles like a tabby in love and hitting you with a drop-your-drawers stare illegal in most states. Her raccooned eyes and crimsoned lips (puffed and pouty, no smile here) briefly delay you from gawking at that silver polyurethane jacket, unbuttoned this evening and revealing a rhinestone-studded bra. Her thighs are packed into cobra-skin pants, and her tan feet would have no trouble slipping out of those pumps should things get interesting. Oh yeah, she’s also squeezing the neck of a handsome guitar, but let’s be honest: The night is young, the booze is flowing, and there are more important things on the gal’s mind than a little rock ‘n’ roll.

This classic image, a certified knee-knocker, amply tells the tale (thus far) of glitz-girl wannabe Crow: She’s a Sin City newbie with Midwestern mud seeping through her pores. An honest singer with a sexy-as-hell voice. A good songwriter with some seriously bad vices. A creative producer with a nasty streak. This is our Sheryl Crow.

Or should I say, that was our Sheryl Crow.

The Globe Sessions, much hyped as Crow’s “most personal album,” is certainly filled with pop hooks galore and a conspicuous Stonesian rumble. But for the most part, the Vegas-style glam that dusted her earlier efforts—think neon chandeliers dangling over dirty ashtrays or tired showgirls serving watered-down cocktails—has been replaced by more suburban matters of the heart. If fun was once a prerequisite for any evening in Crow’s imagination, now all the Missouri native wants to do is have some solid dish about love and loss. No strippers, just stripped.

Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy,” that guilty-pleasure masterpiece about a sugary romance gone sour, will forever be the singer-songwriter’s trademark tune. (She’ll no doubt celebrate when Tuesday Night Music Club’s “All I Wanna Do” finds its way out of her encores.) But Globe’s “My Favorite Mistake,” the album’s opener and first single, allows Crow to finally lay off the ironic dramaworks and toast a relationship’s happy failures. This matter-of-factness works and, for most of this new album, works well. There is no slick dialogue to cover up the heartache; there isn’t even an on-the-rocks remedy to get her through ’til sunrise. This is a mature version of Sheryl Crow (or so we’re told), and if growing older means open-heart lyrics, cleaner production values, and a naturally rootsy sound (not to mention a significant lack of good-time vibes), we’ll gladly stick around to watch.

For an album about “self-examination” and “standing on stage naked” (these words coming from the songstress herself), Globe’s most satisfying tracks are not the ones where she whispers her confessions but those where she berates the congregation. “There Goes the Neighborhood,” with its “Bitch”-style horns, funky drum program, and power-rock guitar, shows the 36-year-old Crow tiring of the wild life and longing for clearer sight lines (“This is the movie of the screenplay of the book about a girl who meets a junkie….We can’t be certain who the villains are ‘cuz everyone’s so pretty”). “Anything but Down,” which starts out as Tom Petty and then, at the chorus, turns strangely Heart, is “My Favorite Mistake” written Sunday at midnight, a time when it’s hard to be optimistic about much of anything. And the clean, well-lighted “Members Only” is a healthy chunk of Midwestern pop, a Friday night sing-along about the wonderful suckiness of love.

Not to take anything away from Crow’s clever songwriting, but The Globe Sessions’ greatest triumph is “Mississippi,” an unreleased Bob Dylan number intended for his Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind. Dylan, not wanting the tune to go to waste, made a personal call to Crow and asked if she’d like to cover the song. Blown up into epic (and thoroughly grooving) proportions with the help of Heartbreaker keyboardist Benmont Tench and former Mellencamp violinist Lisa Germano, “Mississippi” is a solo flight into a middle age that ceases to be linear and safe. With a Dylanesque drawl and some clever phrasing, Crow at the crossroads sings, “Well my ship’s been split to splinters; it’s sinking fast/I’m drowning in the poison, got no future, got no past/But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free/I’ve got nothing but affection for those who have sailed with me.” In her finest vocal performance of any album, Crow proves that she can cover as well as she can create.

Along with producing The Globe Sessions and writing almost all 11 of its tracks, Crow, at various times on the album, plays bass, the Hammond B-3, Wurlitzer, clavinet, harmonica, National guitar, and tambourine. For those who like to label her Jewel in more clothing or Shawn Colvin without the integrity, this album should be more than ample evidence that they are wrong. Although she’s diluted the humor and sly asides so evident on her previous efforts—the gravity of country ballad “Riverwide” seems almost unnatural—Crow on The Globe Sessions proves that her pop-minded success is the result of much more than a slick jacket, a kitschy bra, and some extremely hot shoes.CP