Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Linda Ronstadt - Original Album Series (2012)

What. A. Voice.

About the time Ronstadt was being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I received a text from my buddy Jim that read something like "I'll listen to anything sung by Linda Ronstadt."  I'll second that. That simple text message led to the purchase of this box set later that day.  Over her career, Ronstadt proved to be something of a musical chameleon, moving effortlessly from country to Cajun to rock to Latin to movie soundtracks to jazz standards to comic opera.  She did it all and she did it well (and looked fantastic doing it). 

This box set contains Ronstadt's five studio albums from 1975-1980 and perfectly documents her gradually transition from country-rock to rock to New Wave.  The packaging is simple; no liner notes, just cardboard sleeve replicas of the original covers.  And at my age, that means I have to use a magnifying glass to read them.  But for the price, I'm not complaining.  The albums are so brief, that all five can (and should) be listened to in order, in their entirety, in one sitting.  In my opinion, each album is better than the one that came before.  While I always enjoyed Ronstadt's music on the radio, I never purchased any of these albums at the time of release (my first Ronstadt album purchase was What's New is 1983).  Now that I hear these albums, I regret that oversight.

My only beef with Ronstadt is her willingness to perform in South Africa during apartheid in the '80s. I was deeply saddened by reports that Ronstadt is no longer able to sing due to Parkinson's disease.  Her recently published memoir, Simple Dreams, is on my reading list. 

11 tracks, 37 minutes

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #4
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #5

 U.S. charted singles: Pop AC Country
 Heat Wave519
 Love Is A Rose63
 The Tracks Of My Tears 25411
 The Sweetest Gift


Some of the tracks here are a little too country for my tastes (e.g., The Sweetest Gift), but for the most part the choice of material is fantastic and spotlights Ronstadt's voice appropriately.  Songwriters here vary from Neil Young to Smokey Robinson to James Taylor to Dolly Parton to Jimmy Cliff to the Motown soul team of Holland/Dozier/Holland.

Some of the great forgotten tracks here include Roll Um Easy, the title track, and the definitive version of Parton's I Will Always Love You (yes, I said "definitive version").

Rolling Stone's Dave Marsh and I seem to disagree:

from RS 200, Nov 20, 1975

12 tracks, 42 minutes

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #3
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #3

 U.S. charted singles: Pop AC Country
 That'll Be The Day 111627
 Someone To Lay Down Beside Me4238
 Lose Again 7643


More pop/soft rock than country (we get some Fender Rhodes and Clavinet on this one), songwriters on this album include Buddy Holly, Ry Cooder, Willie Nelson, Andrew Gold, and Warren Zevon, as well as 3 tracks from Karla Bonoff.  In addition to the singles listed above, I enjoy The Tattler and If He's Ever Near.   I'm not a fan of the a capella cover of Rivers Of Babylon segueing into the pseudo-reggae Give One Heart.

Rolling Stone and I are a little closer on this one:

from RS 222, Sept 23, 1976

10 tracks, 32 minutes

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #1 (5 weeks, Dec 3-31, 1977)
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #1 (3 consecutive weeks)

 U.S. charted singles: Pop AC Country
 Blue Bayou332
 It's So Easy 53781
 Poor Poor Pitiful Me 312746
 I Will Never Marry
 Tumbling Dice32

While what was side two of this album outshines side one, it's a solid release.  Country rock was huge in the West Texas town where I lived in 1977 and these tracks were all over the radio and, when I got to travel in a car with teenagers, an 8 track copy of this one was never far from hand.  As always, Ronstadt interprets songs from many different songwriters including Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, J.D. Souther, Warren Zevon, and Mick Jagger & Keith Richards.

I like all but one of the singles plus the gorgeous ballads Sorrow Lives Here and Maybe I'm Right.  As you would expect, the country tunes Carmelita and I Will Never Marry don't do much for me.  I've always prefereed Rondstadt's version of Tumbling Dice to the original Stones version, and Blue Bayou is a soft rock lover's dream come true.

Rolling Stone nails it. Ronstadt is "rock's supreme torch singer":

from RS 250, Oct 20, 1977

10 tracks, 36 minutes

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #1 (1 week, Nov 4, 1978)
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #2

 U.S. charted singles: Pop AC Country
 Back In The U.S.A. 163041
 Ooh Baby Baby7285
 Just One Look 445

Now we're rockin' and roller skating.  There's barely a hint of county to be found here.  Chuck Berry, Elvis Costello, Smokey Robinson, and Warren Zevon are all covered on this one.  Again, I like all the singles on this one (although I may be in minority for liking the cover of Costello's Alison).  I dig the vibraphone solo on the standard When I Grow Too Old To Dream and David Sanborn's gorgeous sax work on Ooh Baby Baby.  I probably liked that Robinson cover a lot more than a disco-loving 12 year old boy should have (still do).  My favorite deep cut here is All That You Dream.  The only skippable track is Mohammed's Radio.

Rolling Stone's Ken Emerson couldn't seem to make up his mind about this one, offering up various uncomplimentary compliments:

from RS 277, Nov 2, 1978

MAD LOVE (1980)
10 tracks, 31 minutes

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #3
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #3

 U.S. charted singles: Pop AC
 How Do I Make You 10
 Hurt So Bad 825
 I Can't Let Go 3148

I'm crazy mad about this album, an overlooked New Wave classic that I've been listening to non-stop since I bought this box set.  Three songs from Elvis Costello plus three more from The Cretones' Mark Goldenberg.  Now I'm jonesing to check out stuff from the Cretones  Without question, my favorite track is the cover of the Hollies' 1996 single I Can't Let Go.  Other strong cuts include the title track, How Do I Make You, Hurt So Bad, Cost Of Love, and Girls Talk (which I think of as a Dave Edmunds tune).  I can't make up my mind about Justine, but I know I don't care much for Talking In The Dark.

Even though they mistakenly stick a "punk" label on this album, Rolling Stone generally liked it (I find it interesting that none of these 5 Ronstadt albums were reviewed at a time when RS was offering starred reviews):

from RS 314, Apr 3, 1980

Personal Memory Associated with these CDs: None

1 comment:

  1. Glad you finally came around. Spoke my piece about lovely Linda HERE.