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A Ronstadt Retrospective
on 7 March 2010
In the 1970s Linda Ronstadt established herself as a leading member of the West Coast mafia that included Jackson Browne, The Eagles, J D Souther and the fledgling singer-songwriter, Warren Zevon. But Ronstadt did not write her own material and her reliance upon the work of others did result in some patchy albums.
Although "Heart Like A Wheel", Ronstadt's first (and best) album from this period, is not included in this set the powerful "Simple Dreams" showcases her emotional brand of country rock. Produced by Peter Asher, with the pick of West Coast session musicians, there is a compelling version of Blue Bayou and a down and dirty reading of the Jagger/Richards composition, "Tumbling Dice". Warren Zevon benefits from her patronage as she delivers stylish performances of "Carmelita" and "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me".
Together with a driving version of Buddy Holly's "It's So Easy" and a duet with Dolly Parton on "I Never Will Marry" this was a definitive album of the time.
"Living In The USA" from 1978 was another Asher production. Although, once again, she has the pick of the Californian sessionmen this album never hits the heights of "Simple Dreams" although her reading of J D Souther's "White Rhythm And Blues" is worth the price of admission on its own. A simply stunning performance of a sadly overlooked song. There are also decent performances of Elvis Costello's "Allison and" Zevon's "Mohammed's Radio" but the rest is ill advised filler.
"Prisoner In Disguise" from 1975 received some critical praise and followed the formula of "Heart Like A Wheel". The are two Motown covers ("The Tracks Of My Tears" and "Heatwave") that are not especially memorable but were perhaps included to give the album an appeal to a broader audience. However, it is her interpretations of two J D Souther numbers, ("Prisoner In Disguise" and "Silver Blue") and the glorious Dolly Parton song "I Will Always Love You" that elevate the album.
"Mad Love" signalled her departure from the country rock scene and her arrival in the world of new wave. There are some interesting takes on Costello's "Party Girl", "Girl's Talk" and "Talking In The Dark". She secured a hit with "Hurt So Bad" The Little Anthony and the Imperials song. Although different from anything before or after the album has stood the test of time.
"Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind" her 1989 collaboration with Aaron Neville, and another Asher production, features a 60 strong symphony orchestra and a 80 voice gospel choir. It produced the hit single "Don't Know Much". Four songs by Jimmy Webb, two Paul Carrack and Nick Lowe collaborations and offerings by Karla Bonoff promise a sense of pedigree but ultimately it is a disappointing foray into adult oriented pop.
So, a boxed set of Peter Asher productions spanning fifteen years that will appeal to Ronstadt completists wanting to upgrade their vinyl collections on a budget. But for the casual Ronstadt listener uncertain of which of her styles they prefer the content will probably be played once and then left to gather dust.