By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Sheryl Crow has spent the past seven years living the country life in country music's capital with her country music friends, but the Grammy-winning rocker has only now come around to recording a country music album.
"Feels Like Home," which will be released on September 10, is the culmination of the 51-year-old mother of two's latest musical conversion, this time into a country singer.
"This album feels very natural," Crow said in an interview at her 50-acre (20-hectare) estate on the outskirts of Nashville, where she keeps 11 horses, two head of longhorn cattle and dogs.
"It's an extension of who I am, where I live. It doesn't seem like too big of a departure. I've been absorbed into the city limits of Nashville."
But it was just 20 years ago when Crow catapulted to pop-rock radio sensation with "All I Wanna Do," proclaiming that "all I want to do is have some fun until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard," the street that traverses Los Angeles.
Crow has sold upward of 20 million albums and has managed to make the transition from 1990s' barroom rocker to polished pop singer in the first decade of the 2000s and now to a new residence in country.
In that time, she credits Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty, both of whom she has worked with, for helping her find her country voice, namely the Stones' 1969 song "Country Honk" and Petty's Southern-bred storytelling.
"After 25 years of songwriting, some of my best is on this record," she said. "Nashville's breathed new life into my songwriting career."
Crow has already scored a top 30 single on Billboard's county music chart with "Easy," an up-tempo love song about domestic happiness.
Crow did get some help from her country music friends during her transition to Nashville, crediting her country conversion to critical favorite Emmylou Harris and country mega-star Brad Paisley, who had long told Crow to take a leap of faith.
"He'd say, 'If your records were to come out now, they would be on country radio,'" Crow said.
She finally succumbed, thanks to a performance she did with Loretta Lynn and Miranda Lambert of Lynn's autobiographical "Coal Miner's Daughter" at the 2010 Country Music Association Awards show.
"After that, he (Paisley) came to me and said, 'Now, will you come home to the format you belong to?'" she recalled.
Paisley reminded Crow that she had long used country music's twangy trademark pedal steel guitar in her songs, even back when she was having fun at dawn on Santa Monica Boulevard in 1993.
Her songs, like country music in general, were three-minute stories, he also told her. Crow said she followed his advice of "turning your vocals up and getting songs more first-person ... He dug in his heels and said, 'You are doing this.'"
Paisley even helped, co-writing the song "Waterproof Mascara" on the album. "Feels Like Home" in fact is Crow's first album collaborating with another songwriter on each track.
His songwriting advice was pretty simple: "Leave out the fat and get to the imagery," Crow said with a flash of a smile.
The end result had her immerse herself in the Nashville-style of songwriting, teaming up with writers of like spirit, and creating - usually from scraps of ideas brought to the sessions by Crow - a dozen songs.
But in her musical transition, Crow also found that country music had shifted its sounds as well.
"The country format is more pop than pop was when I came up" two decades ago, Crow said about her rock 'n' roll days.
"Waterproof Mascara," Crow's favorite track from her new album, may never get played on mainstream country radio, she admits, because it is "too country."
"I love the country format," Crow said, adding that now that she had done her work, "country fans will decide" if it is indeed her home.
(Editing by Eric Kelsey, Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)