Linda Ronstadt – Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of Her Self-Titled Third Album | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Linda Ronstadt – Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of Her Self-Titled Third Album

The Album First Came Out on January 17, 1972

Jan 21, 2022 By Austin Saalman
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Steeped in its region of origin’s booming counterculture, Linda Ronstadt’s vastly underrated eponymous third solo album possesses an irresistibly down-home sound, amplified by the presence of her up-and-coming peers, rendering it a foundational recording of its genre. Although the album’s commercial failure prompted Ronstadt’s departure from Capitol, Linda Ronstadt is a remarkable release, its solid musicianship and twangy charm having helped set an early stage for the emergent country rock subgenre soon to take American radio by storm, perfecting the timeless postcard notion of a breezily romantic ’70s Los Angeles for a nation yet beguiled by its hazy mythology.

Her generation’s top vocalist, Ronstadt could just as easily have performed these tracks a cappella and still commanded the same regard. This is ably demonstrated on the album’s opening track, a stunning cover of Jackson Browne’s “Rock Me on the Water”—the same song was also featured on Browne’s own eponymous debut, released seven days prior—on which Ronstadt eschews his initial gospel approach in favor of a melancholic, reverberating country sound, uniquely interpreting Browne’s apocalyptic vision of “fires burning hotter and hotter.” Here, her compelling vocals conjure a certain doomed immediacy, all of which spills across the musical soil beneath the blooming petals of those blue roses she so often evoked through her music.

Accompanied by a “who’s who” of ’70s musical talent, Linda Ronstadt features contributions from Asylum alumni Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Randy Meisner, and Bernie Leadon—their group Eagles would release its debut album that June—as well as J.D. Souther, whose solo debut was also released that summer. Flying Burrito Brother Sneaky Pete Kleinow, soul singer Merry Clayton, singer/songwriter Moon Martin, and members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section help to ensure the album’s authentic sound with solid performances. While not physically present on the recording, Johnny Cash and Livingston Taylor also receive writing credits, as the album features covers of “I Still Miss Someone” and “In My Reply,” throughout which Ronstadt’s voice billows like the warm Santa Ana winds, leaving the originals and all subsequent renditions wilted and pale in comparison.

Ronstadt and company positively glow on their cover of Neil Young’s “Birds,” lush backing harmonies accentuating her misty-eyed interpretation of Young’s words, while Eric Andersen’s “I Ain’t Always Been Faithful” and R&B favorite “Rescue Me” also receive commendable treatment. The latter sees Ronstadt breaking the album’s general country mold with astounding results. Ronstadt’s ultimate genius rests not only in her devotedly disciplined classical sensibilities, but also her knack for character development. That she was able to cover as many tracks by as many great artists (Browne, Souther, Cash, Warren Zevon, Smokey Robinson, The Rolling Stones, Kate McGarrigle, Chuck Berry, Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, etc., etc.) as she did, and breathe fresh life into their words, speaks volumes as to her masterful storytelling abilities and concept of artistic intimacy.

Even 50 years on, Ronstadt’s vocal prowess has yet to be usurped. While her musical abilities are most certainly not limited to country and rock—she is an accomplished jazz and opera singer, as well as a Tony Award-nominated Broadway performer, and her 1987-released album Canciones de Mi Padre received a Grammy Award for Best Mexican-American Performance—the mark left upon the Laurel Canyon music scene is arguably among her most significant. Her mainstream breakthrough did not arrive until the release of 1974’s Heart Like a Wheel, at which point Ronstadt quickly rose to prominence as one of popular music’s most celebrated artists, her hits regularly topping the charts, and her oft-emulated neo-Bohemian, post-hippie fashion sense becoming as iconic and influential as her music and political activism. By the decade’s end, she was named the highest paid woman in rock, regularly selling out packed stadiums and arenas. Her triumph as a female artist in a male-dominated industry only attests to her authoritative grasp upon her craft and her dynamic presence. Although she officially retired in 2011, eventually revealing her battle with progressive supranuclear palsy as the cause, Ronstadt’s pop legacy shines on. At 50, Linda Ronstadt remains a melodic treat—the enormous talent displayed here should appeal not only to fans of the singer and genre, but also any listener interested in quality music.

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