It takes a versatile artist to write a number-one country hit (1980's "Starting Over Again," for Dolly Parton), simulate an orgasm on a 17-minute disco record (1976's "Love to Love You Baby"), and win a Grammy for an inspirational performance (1983's "He's a Rebel"). Donna Summer has done all of that and more since releasing her first single, 1971's rock-tinged "Sally Go 'Round the Roses." Not only is her latest album, last year's Crayons, the first in 17 years but it's also the first time she has tried to combine her divergent musical interests into one package. It's an admirable effort yet one that dilutes her talent: Crayons proves that despite Summer's disco roots, her strengths now lie in other styles. The big surprise on Crayons is that the album's real highlights aren't the plentiful club cuts but the ones crafted in decidedly more mature styles: "Be Myself Again," a wrenching E! True Hollywood Story of a ballad, and "Slide Over Backwards," on which Summer adopts an entirely unrecognizable country-blues wail over a chugging kick and sly harmonica. It shows Summer hasn't lost her willingness to experiment with genres. After more than three decades, though, she is still at her best when she colors outside the lines of public expectation.
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