Duets by Linda Ronstadt

June 6, 2014



Linda Ronstadt’s recent induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame was bittersweet as she was unable to perform because of her being afflicted with Parkinson’s disease.

She was a superstar of the 1970s and 1980s selling tens of millions of albums and singles and charting dozens of times on the pop and country charts. She changed careers a number of times including a successful three album series with Nelson Riddle and His Orchestra and then exploring her Latin roots.

In conjunction with her entering The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, an album titled Duets has just been released. The tracks are culled from her performances with a number of musical partners down through the years. It is in many ways a niche album. It may not be the best of her material but it brings together her work with other people into one place for the first time.

“Hasten Down The Wind” (Don Henley), “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)” (Emmylou Harris), “Sisters” (Bette Midler), “I Will Never Marry” (Dolly Parton), and “Moonlight In Vermont” (Frank Sinatra) are all good examples of her ability to combine her voice with others of various styles, plus they hold up surprisingly well with the passage of time.

Possibly the gem of the album is an acapella bluegrass type performance of “Pretty Bird” with Laurie Lewis.

Duets may not be the best place to start when exploring the Ronstadt legacy but it can quickly become a guilty pleasure as it presents an often over looked part of her career.

Lisbon Antigua by Nelson Riddle

December 24, 2012

Nelson Riddle, 1921-1985, had several phases to his career. Today he is best remembered for his musical relationship with Linda Ronstandt and the three popular big band albums she released during the early 1980s. He served as a producer and arranger for a number of artists, most notably Frank Sinatra. He also had a successful recording career as well, selling tens of millions of records.

He had the number one single in the United States during 1986. Riddle scored the film “Lisbon” starring Ray Miland and Maureen O’Hara and used the song “Lisbon Antigua” in the film. Released as a single it topped the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Best Sellers In Store Chart for four weeks beginning 2/25/56 and the Most Played By Disc Jockeys Chart for one week. It peaked at number two on the Most Played In Jukeboxes Chart and Top 100 Chart.

The flip side of the single was “Robin Hood,” which was an entirely different story altogether.

Long Long Time by Linda Ronstadt

March 21, 2012

Linda Ronstadt was a superstar of the 1970s and 1980s. Her first hit was during 1967 when her band, The Stone Poneys, reached the American top 20 with the catchy hit, “Different Drum.”

By the early 1970s she was on her own as a solo artist, beginning a career that would sell in the neighborhood of 100-million records.

“Long Long Time” was her first solo single release to reach the American top 40. It reached number 25 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart during the late summer of 1970.

It was a smooth ballad that bridged the gap between rock and pop. Her clear vocal almost made you ache. It was a small beginning to one of the significant careers in pop music.

Alison 45 by Linda Ronstadt

September 24, 2010

Picture discs were the rage in the late seventies and early eighties. They were mainly aimed at the collector’s market. They were usually LP’s but every once in awhile one would appear as a 7 inch 45.

While they could be played on a stereo system they were mainly for show. The sound was poor as the different color vinyl prevented any clarity.

The disc pictured above is “Alison” by Linda Ronstadt. Ronstadt was at the height of her career and this particular picture disc presents her allure well.

Hummin’ To Myself by Linda Ronstadt

April 18, 2010

And so gentle readers, we come to the 23rd and last of my Linda Ronstadt reviews. If you missed any or would like to catch up, just go to the Blogcritics archives.

Hummin’ To Myself was released by the 58 year old Ronstadt during November of 2004 and is her last solo studio release to date. It was a return to the pop/jazz formula which had served her so well on a trio of albums with The Nelson Riddle Orchestra during the 1980’s. Here, however, she eschews a big band and works with a small ensemble to support her interpretations of songs from The Great American Songbook.

As with many of her late career albums, it would only find moderate commercial success. It only reached number 166 on The Billboard Magazine Top 200 Pop charts, but did debut at number two on their jazz charts.

Her voice has remained intact during the course of her long career and has had no detectable deterioration. Here it retains its power, tone, and purity as it takes a stroll through some of the great pre-rock standards.

All in all, it’s an acceptable album with a number of excellent performances interspersed between some average ones which was typical of her later career releases.

The best of the lot are primarily centered on her vocal skills. “Tell Him I Said Hello” is a smooth ballad with a beautiful vocal. “Never Will I Mary” is a jazz swing tune and the final notes are some of the best she has ever recorded. “Cry Me A River” is a cover of the old Julie London ballad which she gets just right. “Miss Otis Regrets” was an interesting song choice for her, as it is a dark ballad which spins a depressing story and is a nice counterpoint to the rest of the material.

On the other hand “Ill Be Seeing You” is an average cover and adds nothing to the original. “I’ve Never Been In Love Before,” “Get Out Of Town,” “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” and the title song all fall into the average range which means nothing bad, but nothing memorable either.

Hopefully Linda Ronstadt has a few more solo albums left in her. Hummin’ To Myself is an OK listen but does not stay with you. We’ll see what the future brings.

We Ran by Linda Ronstadt

April 18, 2010

Linda Ronstadt was now in her early fifties. Her previous studio release, Dedicated To The One I Love, was an album of mostly lullabies aimed at children or infants and there parents to be more precise.

June of 1998 found her issuing We Ran. It was a return to the pop/rock formula which had proven so popular for her in the past. Songs by such artists as John Hiatt, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan were all given The Linda Ronstadt pop treatment as her powerful voice was in fine form.

Unfortunately while a technically adept album and despite interesting song choices, I find it lacking in passion. At times she seems to be going through the motions with the intent to just issue an album. The first hint of trouble was the use of four different producers which is never good for cohesiveness and a unified vision. It would be one of the poorest selling albums of her career and barely reached the American album charts peaking at number 160.

We Ran does have two things in its favor. First she assembles a wonderful trio of guitarists to provide support. Bernie Leadon, Andy Fairweather-Low, and long time member of her touring band Waddy Wachtel provide expert and interesting playing. The second thing is her voice. Her rich vocal instrument makes it just about impossible for her to produce a truly bad album.

There are some very good if not great performances. The best is “Cry ‘Til My Tears Run Dry” written by the legendary team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. It is the one track where she sounds engaged. Her vocal is passionate on this tear jerker. The title song, “When We Ran,” is a John Hiatt tune and is a good example of Ronstadt’s voice making a good song sound better. “Heartbreak Kind” is a nice return to her country sound of the past. Bruce Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind” is at least interesting.

On the other hand “Give Me A Reason” is a rare vocal miss for Ronstadt. She also gets the phrasing wrong on Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.”

We Ran was an average effort by Linda Ronstadt. The musical landscape was changing and this album was tied to the past. There are certainly a lot of better stops in her catalogue.

Dedicated To The One I Love by Linda Ronstadt

April 18, 2010

Many artists have at least one unique idea during the course of their careers. Sometimes it works out well and at other times not so much. Dedicated To The One I Love is one of those other times for me.

Linda Ronstadt was about a month shy of fifty years old when she released this album. It was a compilation of lullabies for children. She took some classic rock ‘n’ roll songs and interpreted them for children or babies to be more exact.

I almost forgot I actually owned a copy of this album. It was released during June of 1996 when my children were in college and grandchildren were not in my immediate future. Maybe I picked it up second hand at a tag sale but it has resided in my collection for an indeterminate number of years. No doubt it appeals to someone with small children but if I’m going to listen to some Linda Ronstadt music, this is not a CD I would visit.

The choice of material is eclectic. The old classic “Dedicated To The One I Love,” the Ronettes “Baby I Love You,” plus “In My Room,” “Baby I Love You,” and “Angel Baby” are all interpreted with young children in mind. They are given gentle treatments. The purity of her vocals remains but the power is missing on many of the performances and for me at least, that is a loss.

The best track is a re-working of her own “Winter Light.” It was originally a sophisticated and complicated track. Here it is stripped down as it travels in a gentle direction and is an interesting counterpoint to the original. “Brahms’ Lullaby” is probably the type of material she should have sought out as it is perfect for the concept of the album plus Aaron Neville adds an additional relaxed feel.

The oddest inclusion is a slowed down version of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” This rock classic is meant to be a high energy chant and not a children’s tune.

Dedicated To The One I Love is an oddity in the Linda Ronstadt catalogue but continued her resolve to travel in different directions and embrace many styles of music. It remains an interesting if odd stop on her musical journey. Its appeal is left for each individual to decide.

Feels Like Home by Linda Ronstadt

April 15, 2010

Feels Like Home may have been released during March of 1995, but its origins extend back to 1987 when Linda Ronstadt combined with friends Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris to release their Trio album. It earned a platinum record award for sales and reached the top ten on The United States pop charts and topped the country charts.

They went back into the studio during 1994 to record a followup album which would be called Trio II. The album remained unreleased until 1999. Linda Ronstadt would erase some of the vocals and include five of the tracks on her own 1995 release.

These tracks form the foundation of the album and while they may not be the best material she has produced, they remain a good listen. They also lost a little of their luster when Trio II was finally released as the vocal harmonies were superior.

“High Sierra” contains a pure Ronstadt vocal which is always a good thing. “After The Gold Rush” was a production and she is backed by an orchestra and strings. “The Blue Train” is the one track that emerges intact as the original vocals are mostly left alone. “Lovers Return” features some brilliant fiddle playing by Alison Krauss.

The albums best two songs are taken in a rock direction. Tom Petty’s “The Waiting” is given a wonderful interpretation by Ronstadt and makes one wish she would have recorded more rock songs during this period of her career. Matraca Berg has only issued a handful of albums during her 38 year career but she has been a prolific songwriter whose material has been covered by Nashville’s elite. Ronstadt takes this country song in a rock direction with good results.

Feels So Good continued her penchant for releasing good but not outstanding releases. Time has made this album largely forgotten in her vast catalog but every once in awhile it remains an interesting, if not essential listen.

Winter Light by Linda Ronstadt

April 15, 2010

1989’s Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind was Linda Ronstadt’s first album of pop/rock material in seven years. It was also one of the strongest releases of her career and her fan base quickly made it one of her best selling studio albums as it went triple platinum in The United States.

It would not be until 1993 that she would issue another pop/rock album. The interim was filled by more music from her cultural heritage.

Winter Light was a good, if not great album. She reached back into rock and pop history for many of the songs. The musical landscape was changing and this release would mark a downturn in her commercial appeal. It would fail to reach gold record status and would only reach number 92 on the album charts.

What is immediately noticeable is the absence of long time producer Peter Asher for the first time in twenty years. She co-produced the album herself with engineer George Massenburg. The sound is crisp and layered and the song selection good, so it is debatable whether Asher’s absence was critical. At age 47 Ronstadt was taking full control of her career and moving on with life and the music she desired to create.

When Linda Ronstadt is good she is very good and three tracks fit that definition. The old and somewhat obscure Beach Boys track “Don’t Cry (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)” which was a part of their classic Pet Sounds album is given a gentle and brilliant interpretation as her delicate vocal just floats over the top. A tune, written by old buddy Emmylou Harris, returns her to her country comfort zone with nice results. The title track is a rare song co-written by Ronstadt along with long time friend Eric Kaz. The ethereal vocal fits the song well and remains one the better performances from the last two decades of her career.

A number of other songs are more than adequate if not brilliant. Two Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs, “Anyone Who Had A Heart” and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” were originally recorded by Dionne Warwick. She gives a nice performance on each but adds nothing new. The old Goffin/King song suffers the same fate as the performance is very listenable but does not approach Maxine Brown’s original or even Dusty Springfield’s rendition. Jimmy Webb songs formed the foundation of Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind but “Do What You Gotta Do” and “You Can’t Treat The Wrong Man Right” are only average.

Winter Light remains a CD which rarely leaves my storage shelf. The intent of the album was sound, but it pales next to many of the other releases in her superb catalog.

Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind by Linda Ronstadt

April 7, 2010

After three albums of American pop standards, one straight-country album, and an album of Mariachi music which explored her cultural heritage, Linda Ronstadt returned in October of 1989 with an eclectic record of songs ranging from pop to rhythm and blues, allowing her to return to the interpretive style that had made her a superstar.

Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind would become one of the most commercially successful studio releases of her career, selling in excess of three million copies, staying on the American album charts for over a year, producing two hit singles, and winning her yet another Grammy Award.

Ronstadt was now in her early forties and produced a mature, basically pop album. She and long-time producer Peter Asher continued to show their knack of selecting songs which matched her powerful and sensitive vocals well. Their selection of Aaron Neville for duets on four of the tracks was brilliant as his unique voice provided a wonderful counterpoint to her own.

Jimmy Webb is sometimes an underrated songwriter but he has composed hundreds of songs which have been recorded by too many artists to count during the course of his 45 year career. Ronstadt selected four of his compositions to grace this album and they form the foundation of this very strong release. “Adios” makes the top ten list of my favorite Linda Ronstadt songs, this haunting soundtrack to the end of the California dream featuring Brian Wilson on backing vocals. “Still Within The Sound Of My Voice” leads off the album and her soaring vocal says she is back in familiar territory. “Shattered” is a beautiful, sensitive ballad while “I Keep It Hid” is just a cut below the first three.

The album spawned two big hits, both of them duets with Aaron Neville. “Don’t Know Much” received massive airplay during late ’89 and reached the number two position on the American singles charts. “All My Life” reached number eleven, proving that these two voices were made for each other.

The title song is one of the more ambitious of her career. She recorded a number of Eric Kaz songs during the course of her career but this is the most sophisticated and intricate. A gospel choir, orchestration, and percussion support the tempo and tonal changes, pushing her to leave her comfort zone in a way that yields a stunning performance.

The last song, “Goodbye My Friend,” is gentle and poignant, speaking about the passing of a friend, making for a fitting conclusion to the album.

Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind was the last consistently great album of Linda Ronstadt’s career to date. She has also not produced another top fifty album. When exploring Ronstadt’s catalogue, though, this remains an essential and satisfying stop.