How much do you tell and how do you tell it?
These are the questions at the heart of both Joni Mitchell's Taming the Tiger and Sheryl Crow's The Globe Sessions, collections that otherwise diverge sharply, as their authors pursue their prickly, eccentric, but mutually exclusive obsessions.
Crow's Globe Sessions can be heard as the flip side of Mitchell's refreshed interest in mass outreach. Coming off of two solid hit albums, Crow now offers music that tries to make its singer-songwriterly confessionalism less specific. The CD is a sustained yearning for privacy, solace, and escape, lest she (as the closing song title has it) ''Crash and Burn.'' Produced by Crow and mixed by Tchad Blake, the entire enterprise is filled with clatter and clutter guitar distortion, radio static, the sound of a phone left pulsing off the hook that convey a conflicted state of mind about love, fame, and the nagging feeling that she can't trust anyone's motives.
''I am scared that I'm weird,'' she says on ''Am I Getting Through (Part I & II),'' and answers the title question with a muttered, ''I don't care, I don't care.'' Even when she admits to insecurity, it's cast as an aside or a pun, as in her watery refrain in ''Riverwide,'' ''Don't bail on me.''
Which isn't to say that The Globe Sessions is unfocused or not catchy. It leads off with the devilish single ''My Favorite Mistake,'' whose bouncy melody almost disguises the fact that the title phrase refers to a wayward lover she can't quite dump. It's a measure of how good The Globe Sessions is that I couldn't pick out the Time Out of Mind outtake Bob Dylan gave her to record until I looked at the credits, and even then, ''Mississippi'' still seemed like just a nifty throwaway on an album of crafted keepers. And Crow, by the way, doesn't get enough credit for a wily sense of humor: Aren't the lines in ''There Goes the Neighborhood'' ''The photo chick made to look sickly/Is standing in her panties in the shower'' a good description of Fiona Apple's ''Criminal'' video? And how 'bout that ''hidden'' final cut, a Dylanly diatribe about the persecution of Bill Clinton?
Inspired by Mitchell, I dug out my tattered college copy of Blake's ''Songs of Innocence and Experience'' and damned if I didn't almost immediately come upon its message for Sheryl Crow: ''Love seeketh not Itself to please/Nor for itself hath any care/But for another gives its ease/And builds a Heaven in Hell's despair.'' Or, less eloquently: Your favorite mistake might be a blessing in disguise, Sheryl. The Globe Sessions: A-