Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Indistinct Ronstadt: Feels Like Home Wafts By, Rightly Absent From The Hits.

The Good: Voice, Moments of interpretation
The Bad: Bland song choices, Short, Twangy
The Basics: Short, bland and lacking in any real artistry, Linda Ronstadt presents an album where it feels like she'd not even trying with Feels Like Home.

It is tough to get up the enthusiasm to write about an album that does not impress me right now. Truth be told, I've been having a tough time keeping up with the music reviews I have to write. Part of that is that the next album I have around to review is one that is bland and simply disappoints me every time I listen to it.

I have been on a kick listening to albums by Linda Ronstadt for the past few days - in between reviewing new artists Ingrid Michaelson and Metro Station - and I am ready to get these reviews written and out of my hands, save that I have been so musically disappointed the past few days. With Feels Like Home, Ronstadt presents cover songs from the likes of Tom Petty, Randy Newman and Neil Young. And while her classic album Heart Like A Wheel (reviewed here!) had some truly inspired cover versions of classic songs - several of which appear on her "Greatest Hits" album - Feels Like Home is utterly lacking in anything other than voice and decent use of a mandolin.

With only ten tracks clocking in at 39:32, Feels Like Home collects and interprets the songs in the voice of Linda Ronstadt. In most cases, this is apparently in the original arrangement, as Ronstadt is only credited with arranging two of the songs ("After The Gold Rush" and "The Blue Train"). The only two tracks I knew coming into the album, "The Waiting" and "Teardrops Will Fall," sound like they do when performed by Tom Petty and John Mellencamp, respectively. Ronstadt does not play any instruments on Feels Like Home, though she does take a co-producing and mixing credit.

In other words, this album is very limited in how it might express any sense of artistic creativity on the part of Linda Ronstadt. She sings, she backs herself up and one supposes that she got the mixing the way she wanted, but the lyrics and sound are largely what she found and how she found them. For those unfamiliar with my reviews, I tend to be less impressed with performers than I am with artists. On Feels Like Home, Ronstadt is simply a vocal performer.

Unfortunately, Ronstadt's song choices make this a particularly uninspired album. While it opens well with a fairly decent interpretation of "The Waiting," it quickly becomes a twangy, more country and bluegrass oriented album, departing from the pop-rock start it gets. The songs are melancholy and her vocal presentations are somewhat monolithic, dragging out her vocals and leaving the listener more tired than inspired. This is definitely a collection of songs that when one plays them over and over, the sound becomes blurred, indistinct and ultimately forgettable. Indeed, when I finish this review and pop the album out (I have listened to it no less than twenty times over the course of the past two weeks) I know I will soon forget each and every track I heard and I won't be any worse for the forgetting.

What is good are some of the lyrics. For those who haven't heard, "The Waiting," Tom Petty's lines are classic and simple with the direct approach to loneliness on the song. Ronstadt clearly sings his popular refrain, "The waiting is the hardest part / Every day you see one more card / You take it on faith / You take it to the heart / The waiting is the hardest part" ("The Waiting"). Ronstadt makes it sound good, too, with the infusion of the electric mandolins and her voice, she brings a very different sensibility (if not a completely different sound) to the track.

And she picks well with the poetics of many of her tracks. She is articulate and clear singing "Oh the women 'cross the river carry water from the well at the break of day / And they talk to one another; God only knows what they might say / You might get an education after years of dedication / You might finally get a glimpse of what is right and what is wrong / But the women 'cross the river, well, they knew that all along" ("Women 'Cross The River"). The song is a poem set to music and it has a very traditional sound that fits this album well, even though it follows the very similar "Morning Blues," which is a folksy song about living in poverty.

The thing is, some of the songs use predictable rhymes and obvious pairings. There are many references to god on the tracks and the sense that much of life is out of the musical narrator's hands. That's worth noting only in that it follows more closely a country/bluegrass sensibility and those who are looking for one of Ronstadt's pop-rock albums will want to avoid this outing.

What the album does have is Linda Ronstadt's voice. Ronstadt has a beautiful alto-soprano voice and while she stays mostly within the safe alto range on Feels Like Home (the album) she foes go into the higher ranges on some of the slower songs, like "Feels Like Home." The thing is, after listening to and buying albums by Hem, I've discovered that I can appreciate new music that sounds traditional. I can fully enjoy music that borders on country bluegrass when there is a great voice backing it and it says something new.

None of the tracks on "Feel Like Home" say anything particularly new. They are songs about sorrow, melancholy and living through sadness. While Ronstadt has a beautiful, sweet voice, she is no Sally Ellyson (the lead singer of Hem). Actually, on "Morning Blues," when Ronstadt stretches into the soprano range, she makes me think Ellyson might have been derivative of her. Still, I'd take Rabbit Songs (reviewed here!) to Feels Like Home any day of the week.

Musically, this is a slow album dominated by guitars and pianos. There is, admittedly, very creative use of the electric mandolin on several tracks and Ronstadt makes it work for her. The problem as far as the album goes is that after the first track, there is nothing that sounds different enough to keep the listener engaged. This is a slow, sad-sounding album and it is very committed to that sound, making it ultimately very bland.

Linda Ronstadt may be a truly great performer and have a lot going for her; Feels Like Home is not her best endeavor and only those who must have everything by her will want this disc. The rest of us can safely leave it on the shelves.

The best track is melancholy and evocative "The Blue Train," the low point is the utterly forgettable, more "country" track "High Sierra."

For other, former, female Artist Of The Month works, please visit my reviews of:
Liz Phair - Liz Phair
Album 1700 - Peter, Paul, And Mary
The Collection - Alanis Morissette


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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