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Sheryl Crow knows her music, dating life go hand in hand these days

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TORONTO (CP) - Even though she was in town to promote her latest CD, Sheryl Crow knew she was also going to have to chat about her cyclist fiance.

Reviews of her latest CD, Wildflower, have almost all included some remark about her engagement to Lance Armstrong.

"They can't separate the celebrity from the art," the singer said during a slew of interviews Tuesday. "You don't come in with a clean slate when you hand in your record."

Tabloids, she said, seized on a recent rumour that the pair had gone their separate ways.

"They were so disappointed when they found out we weren't split up because Jen and Brad had just split up and it had done so well for them," said Crow, who began dating Armstrong in 2003.

"It sold so many of their magazines that they were really hoping that they were going to benefit (from us). That's a terrible place to be."

But 43-year-old - clad in a sweater and jeans, and sporting a huge engagement ring - said she's old enough to not let those things bother her much.

Instead, she's throwing herself into work after taking a couple years off, including last summer which she spent gleefully cheering Armstrong during his final Tour de France.

Wildflower has her reflecting on big picture topics like politics and religion. It follows 2002's C'mon, C'mon with its hit Soak Up the Sun.

"It's an amazing time to be able to write songs about what's going on in the world," said the one-time music teacher who got her start in music as a backup singer on Michael Jackson's Bad tour.

"Definitely in the States we've seen a move towards the religious right start to dictate policy, and how different now America is perceived outside our borders - just a lot of stuff to write about."

Spending time in Spain to write songs, and later in France with Armstrong, let her experience how the rest of the world sees the United States.

"I did feel like an alien on a strange planet in the way Americans are perceived to be wholly arrogant just because the administration is wholly arrogant - and corrupt," she said. "To have our world standing tarnished that way, makes you feel quite helpless."

On the upside, it's getting her creativity flowing.

"I'm just feeling more compelled to write. There's a real need for it especially when you watch a show like the American Music Awards and you see how much of it is pap," she said.

"People are really yearning for some meaning and some depth. It's a really interesting time to be a writer. I always feel like my best work is ahead of me."

So does she have any regrets about early hits like All I Want To Do?

"Yeah, a lot of them are about drinking but a lot of it is narrative so I can still stand behind a lot of it. The characters may be road worn but they're real people to me."

Her growth extends to her stage act, which lately has included an 11-piece string section lead by composer David Campbell.

Campbell, father of singer Beck, helped with the string arrangements on the CD.

"It's a whole different thing. It brings an elegance to the evening. It also makes it highly dramatic which is a lot of fun," said Crow.

"I wish we could afford to do that on regular tour but it's insanely expensive."

Crow expects to launch a full scale tour, including some stops in Canada, next March. She says she'll likely get married in the summer.

© The Canadian Press, 2005

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