Earlier this month Linda Ronstadt was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The Tucson-born Ronstadt was recognized as one of the most versatile, most influential singers in the history of pop music, the only artist to win Grammy Awards in four different categories, pop, country, Mexican American and Tropical Latin.
Ronstadt, who’s retired from music, a decision attributed in part to her diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease, possessed a truly extraordinary voice, one of immense power, range and clarity. She is unquestionably one of the best interpretive singers of her generation, able to take just about any song from any genre of music and make it her own.
One of the things that endeared her to me and to millions of others was her ability to sing absolutely gorgeous harmonies, like those she contributed to Trio, her 1987 collaboration with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. She became one of the go-to singers for duets and over the course of her career recorded a large number of them.
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to a new compilation album from Rhino Records which focuses exclusively on that aspect of her career. Duets, just released this month, features some of her most memorable collaborations. The songs gathered together for this set accurately reflect both her musicality and her diversity for they are drawn from almost every aspect of her career.
Several of the duets featured here were Grammy Award winners, starting with her 1976 recording of Hank Williams’ I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You for Heart Like A Wheel, for which she teamed up with Emmylou Harris. Parton, her other Trio collaborator, is featured on the traditional ballad I Never Will Marry, which she recorded for 1977’s Simple Dreams. Her two most commercially successful duets are included here, Don’t Know Much and All My Life, both recorded with the ever soulful Aaron Neville for 1989’s Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind. The duet she recorded with Sinatra for his Duets record is here, a lovely version of the standard Moonlight In Vermont. The album kicks off with three superb duets featuring Ronstadt and acclaimed Cajun singer Ann Savoy of the Savoy Doucet Cajun Band.
Recording as the Zozo Sisters they did an entire record of duets, Adieu False Heart, which sadly was Ronstadt’s last full studio album. From that record you get the title track, plus I Can’t Get Over You and their achingly beautiful acoustic cover of the Left Banke’s 1966 pop gem Walk Away Renee. Good choices all, but my favourite track from that record, their version of Parlez-Moi d’Amour, would have been a nice addition too.
Other plum duets here include Ronstadt’s pairing with Don Henley for Warren Zevon’s Hasten Down The Wind, her match-up with J.D. Souther on Souther’s Prisoner in Disguise and the duet she recorded with James Ingram for the soundtrack of Steven Spielberg’s American Tail, Somewhere Out There. There are a couple of surprises here but they’re well chosen. One is her duet with Bette Midler on Irving Berlin’s Sisters, popularized by Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas. The other is a version of bluegrass legend Hazel Dicken’s Pretty Bird, recorded with bluegrass star Laurie Lewis. This track was not available before now. Ronstadt and her longtime manager John Boylan helped pick the material for this set.
Can’t really fault any of their choices. Duets focuses, as stated above, on just that aspect of her career. For a broader representation of her career you should check out The Linda Ronstadt Box Set, which makes up for the lack of originality in its title with 86 songs spread over four CDs. Hard to imagine that Ronstadt will never record again. Be thankful there’s so much in her catalogue to play over and over again. Had hoped she would be on deck for her induction into the Rock & Roll of Fame but she was unable to attend. Instead you got Emmylou Harris, Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Carrie Underwood and Don Henley doing her material. Worth a listen.
(Rating 4 out of 5 stars)
Doug Gallant, a reporter with The Guardian, writes his music review column for The Guardian every week. He welcomes comments from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 629-6000, ext. 6057.