The Good: Wonderful voice, Good duets, Good song mix, Decent instrumentals
The Bad: One or two less inspired songs in the mix
The Basics: Linda Ronstadt is a truly great musical performer whose greatest hits are a time capsule of her interpretations of some of the greatest pop-rock songs of all time.
For a while, I was very disappointed in Linda Ronstadt. As I continue my musical education with picking out random artists to delve into, I occasionally find a name that is lauded by most as truly great and I discover that instead of being an amazing artist, they are simply a truly great performer. Linda Ronstadt is one such performer. To be fair to her, it is easy to see how and why she has managed to sustain a career for the decades she has been performing, but at the end of the day, when one considers the songs that she and her producers consider the "very best" of her works, they are almost all written and orchestrated by people other than Ronstadt.
In other words, when picking up The Very Best Of Linda Ronstadt, the listener needs to be prepared for the very best performances of Linda Ronstadt, as opposed to the best songs written and arranged by Ronstadt. In fact, she only wrote "Winter Light" on this album, the rest are covers or tracks that were written for her, like "Somewhere Out There," which was tailored to her and James Ingram for the movie An American Tail.
With twenty-one tracks clocking in at just over sixty-eight minutes of music, The Very Best Of Linda Ronstadt is a celebration of reinterpretations of music presented by one of the leading performers and music scholars of the last century. Linda Ronstadt is an avid explorer of musical history and it comes through quite well on this album with the sheer number of Buddy Holly covers she performs, like "It's So Easy" and "That'll Be The Day." But on The Very Best Of Linda Ronstadt, she is a vocal performer; she does not play any instruments and she takes only a minor production co-credit, on very few of the songs. The Very Best Of Linda Ronstadt is a pop-rock celebration, as opposed to the more country and folk bents that she takes on some of her individual albums. As a result, anyone who likes a strong female voice in the pop-rock genre will find something to love on this album.
First, Ronstadt is able to sing. She has an amazing voice and she has pretty impressive range. Indeed, she goes from alto to soprano quite effortlessly. Interestingly, on tracks like "It's So Easy" and "That'll Be The Day" she illustrates a great ability to mimic the range of Buddy Holly. Moreover, she shows her versatility with "Blue Bayou" and "When Will I Be Loved," where she takes her voice much higher. Similarly, she is able to go over the range of tempos fairly well. On tracks like "Different Drum," she drawls, on "Don't Know Much" she is slow and sultry, and with "Heat Wave," she is fast and dancable.
Ronstadt has a pretty impressive ability to articulate no matter the speed of the song or the vocal range it is set in. She has a clear voice and when she goes high and slow, on tracks like "Long Long Time," she is able to present her music as haunting and wrenching in a way that is beautiful. She is sultry on "Ooh Baby Baby" and hip on "It's So Easy." "When Will I Be Loved" is sad and beautiful with her voice and the album comes together in a way that does not seem like a random collection of singles. It has great flow and it mixes up the tones, tempos and vocal ranges - as well as themes - Ronstadt performs.
Ronstadt, through the years, has had an amazing ability to pick songs that she is able to perform wonderfully. She remains for most people in the collective unconscious with "Different Drum" from her time with Stone Poneys. She clearly and beautifully sings, "You cry and moan and say it will work out / But honey child I've got my doubts / You can't see the forest for the trees / Oh don't get me wrong / It's not that I knock it / It's just that I am not in the market / For a boy who wants to love only me / Yes, and I ain't saying you ain't pretty / All I'm saying is I'm not ready For any person place or thing / To try and pull the reins in on me" ("Different Drum"). And articulating all that she has to say on that song is no easy thing, yet she makes it seem effortless.
Moreover, she has the ability to take fairly simple lines and make them beautiful and greater than the sum of their parts. Indeed, the diction on some of her songs is not extraordinary and it is the way she presents them that makes the songs resonate listen after listen. For example, when she sings, "Caught in my fears / Blinking back the tears / I can't say you hurt me when you never let me near / And I never drew one response from you / All the while you fell all over girls you never knew / Cause I've done everything I know to try and make you mine / And I think it's gonna hurt me for a long long time" ("Long Long Time") it is beautiful and compelling, far beyond the simple rhyme scheme. It stands out as something that is lonely and sad and the distinctly feminine take on it infuses it with power.
Linda Ronstadt is able to be virtually everything in the songs she performs on The Very Best Of Linda Ronstadt. Songs like "Adios" capture her experimental growth and exploration of international music, "Poor Poor Pitiful" me allows her to sing with irony and when she belts out "That'll Be The Day," the listener is taken back to the origins of rock and roll . . . with a twist. Ronstadt is able to make the listener believe in the enduring, universal quality of every song she sings on this album and it makes for a powerful experience, listen after listen.
Thematically, The Very Best Of Linda Ronstadt is preoccupied with love and loss, for the most part. There is the national pride song "Back In The U.S.A." which describes the joy at returning home, but that pales to the loss of "Adios" or "Hurt So Bad." There are the classic songs associated more with Ronstadt than the original artists, like "Heart Is Like A Wheel." Ronstadt makes that her own when she sings, "Some say the heart is just like a wheel / When you bend it you can't mend it / But my love for you is like a sinking ship / And my heart is on that ship out in mid-ocean" ("Heart Is Like A Wheel").
Instrumentally, which Ronstadt may only take minimal credit for, the album is mostly guitar-driven, though more the acoustic guitar flavor than the electric. She takes on an orchestral sound for her duets, "Somewhere Out There," "Don't Know Much" and "All My Life," as well. She manages to make her voice blend with the strings on "Winter Light" and she generally keeps the percussion minimal.
In fact, on the track "Just One Look," there are strong drums. The rest of the album is driven by guitars and the percussion is mostly muted to the voice of Linda Ronstadt. But, quite simply, Ronstadt rocks and there is no better compilation for the diversity of her pop-rock hits than The Very Best Of Linda Ronstadt. For those who have not heard her works, this might be the greatest value for audiophiles as it provides the most diverse range of Ronstadt's musical expressions.
The best track is "Long Long Time" and the low point is the jingoistic "Back In The U.S.A."
For other Linda Ronstadt reviews, please check out my reviews of:
Heart Like A Wheel
Feels Like Home
Dedicated To The One I Love
Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions
For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page!
© 2013, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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