Sheryl Crow released a song Friday that’s not exactly new. "Redemption Day" was originally released in 1996 on her multi-platinum self-titled album. But for the Nashville-based Grammy winner, the song has new meaning and new weight, thanks to the voice of an old friend: Johnny Cash.
And Crow tells WPLN, it's the first song to be released on what she thinks will be her final album.
Crow’s original 1996 recording came in the form of a train song, a chugalong track with an ascendant chorus. Crow says she wrote the song after taking a trip to war-torn Bosnia and seeing news reports about the Rwandan genocide.
Johnny Cash covered "Redemption Day" shortly before he died, and it was released on a posthumous compilation. Sheryl Crow first used the Cash recording live on a tour in 2014 with her band.
"We did it once and we just could not believe. It was like an audible gasp in the audience and people with tears welling up in their eyes," she recalls. "But it really wasn't until I was making this record, and taking into consideration where we are at now as a country and, you know, as a civilization, that I felt like this is the time to actually release a version of the two of us."
While Crowe says the original meaning of the song hasn't changed, her perspective has. And she now sees it as a way to show the horrors of war through the eyes of a child.
"I'm a mom. I've got two small children, 8 and 11. ... I'm really conscious every day of what my children are exposed to. And some of that I can control, and some of it I can't.
"You know for me to constantly be drilling down on the fact that the truth does matter, and we don't lie and that we treat everybody with love and compassion, is somewhat cancelled out by gadgets and by 24-hour news. And, you know, how people are so divided now.
"So, it seemed like a very apropos time to release the song particularly with the weight of Johnny's vocal on it."
Sheryl Crow met Johnny Cash early in her career, but it was a chance meeting Johnny's wife, June Carter, that really connected her to the Cash family. The two struck up what would be a lifelong friendship, with Crow being asked to sing at June Carter's funeral.
"After June passed, Johnny's son-in-law called me and said, 'I've given your song "Redemption Day" to Johnny, and he loves it and wants to record it.' And he proceeded to ask me a lot of questions — Johnny did — about what certain lyrics meant, and then he told me it would be the cornerstone of his new record and he felt it was such an important, timely song to put out. And then he passed away a few weeks later.
"And when it came time to make this record of all the people that I've loved and who have inspired me, he was at the forefront of those people."
Sheryl Crow's new album is called Threads, and it pulls together a string of fellow artists including a mutual friend of Crow and Cash: Kris Kristofferson. Crow decided to make this album a purely collaborative effort, after witnessing Kristofferson struggle with memory issues.
"All these people that are on the record have been inspirations to me and for me. And I also made sure to invite the people that are inspiring me now ... these people that carry the mantle into the future, that will be writing the songs that matter for future generations.
That said, Crow believes this will be the last time she puts out an album.
"It takes a lot of time and money and energy to create a fully artistic statement with a beginning, a middle and end. And, you know, you hope you have a song that lands on a playlist somewhere. People just don't listen to albums anymore. So I feel like this is a good one to go out on.
"And in the future, when I write something I feel like needs to be put out, we'll just put it out. We won't wait to make a whole album."