Linda Ronstadt’s career had already taken one significant turn when she left her pop/folk roots behind and embraced rock ‘n’ roll, especially by including an album of new wave rock. Very few people were prepared, however, for the next period of her career when she made another abrupt turn and issued three consecutive albums of popular standards backed by an orchestra. It would’ve been interesting to have been a fly on the wall when she met with producer Peter Asher and the heads of her record label to explain her plans.
She wisely chose arranger/producer/orchestra leader Nelson Riddle as a partner. His pedigree included fourteen albums with Frank Sinatra, seven with Nat King Cole, five with Ella Fitzgerald plus projects with Dean Martin, Judy Garland, and Peggy Lee. Riddle proved to be a perfect match for Ronstadt as their albums together sold millions of copies, reviving his career and helping her expand her fan base.
My only criticism of the album is its shortness as it contains only nine songs and clocks in at less than forty minutes.
As with her pop and rock material, she continued to select songs which were perfect for her voice. Songs by the Gershwins, Sammy Cahn, Irving Berlin, and Gordon Jenkins among others all succumbed to her sophisticated interpretive style.
Her take on the old standard “I’ve Got A Crush On You” is the album’s strongest track. Her voice has power, tone, and smoothness, all of which are just perfect for this traditional standard. Another highlight is a moody rendition of “Someone To Watch Over Me.” When you add in “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry,” “I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You,” What’ll I Do,” and “Lover Man,” you have an album of note.
In many ways What’s New helped to return material of this type to the public eye. It remained on the album charts for well over a year and sold three million copies in the United States alone. Linda Ronstadt would travel in a number of musical directions, but her trilogy of standard pop albums with Nelson Riddle remains some of the highlights of her career.