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DOUG GALLANT: Classic Ronstadt live set surfaces

“Linda Ronstadt: Live In Hollywood” showcases the now retired Ronstadt at the peak of her career with a killer back-up band. The set was originally recorded for an HBO concert special.
“Linda Ronstadt: Live In Hollywood” showcases the now retired Ronstadt at the peak of her career with a killer back-up band. The set was originally recorded for an HBO concert special. - Doug Gallant

As someone who grew up listening to the music of Linda Ronstadt, it is difficult to imagine that she will never sing again.
But it’s been 15 years now since she recorded her last solo record, “Hummin’ to Myself”, and close to 13 years since the release of “Adieu False Heart”, a record she made with Cajun music star Ann Savoy as one half of The Zozo Sisters.
That critically acclaimed recording, which is treasured by fans of Cajun and contemporary folk music, was sadly to be her last.
Such was the damage inflicted on her vocal cords by Parkinson’s disease that Ronstadt felt she had no choice but to stop singing, walking away from a career that had made her one of the most popular female artists in the world and earned her eight Grammy Awards.
We were reminded of what we lost in 2016 with the release of a three-disc compilation that brought together all of the recordings she had made with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris as a trio.
That appeared to be the end of it.
But, no, thankfully not.
Rhino Records, long considered the world’s premier reissue label, has just released “Linda Ronstadt: Live In Hollywood”, a 12-song set recorded in 1980 for her acclaimed HBO television special.
In a career that spanned five decades Ronstadt never released a live recording, but this set more than makes up for that.
Recorded in April of that year, the concert captured Ronstadt at the peak of her popularity and in total control of that magnificent voice, a voice which seemed to have almost unlimited range — contralto to soprano — and virtually inexhaustible power.
Twenty songs were performed for that special, and Ronstadt chose 12 of her favourite performances for inclusion in this set. Those performances include some of her biggest hits like “Blue Bayou”, “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”, “It’s So Easy”, “Back In The USA” and “You’re No Good”.
But it also includes gems like “Faithless Love” and “Hurt So Bad”, which never made it to the upper reaches of the Billboard Charts but were nonetheless absolutely gorgeous tracks.
Ronstadt was supported on stage for this concert by a stellar back-up band that featured guitarists Kenny Edwards and Danny Kortchmar, drummer Russ Kunkel, bassist Bob Glaub, keyboardist Billy Payne from Little Feat, pedal steel guitarist Dan Dugmore and backing vocalist Wendy Waldman. Rounding out the band was Peter Asher, Ronstadt's producer, who played percussion and sang background vocals.
While everything here is good, fans will get a particular charge out of the thesix-minute-plus jam version of “You’re No Good”.
Grammy Award-winning producer John Boylan produced this recording, which is now available on both CD and on vinyl.
It should be noted there was a version of “Linda Ronstadt Live In Hollywood” released in 2012 by a label called Immortal Audio. The set had all 20 songs from the concert, but the audio quality was noticeably inferior. Rhino Records did a superb job on the new release.
(Rating: 4 out of 5 stars)

Fun Fact
This record almost didn’t happen.
Producer John Boylan said HBO, Ronstadt and her record label, Warner Bros., could not initially find the master tapes.
A rink-side conversation with a Warner Bros. audio engineer at their sons' hockey practice finally led him to the missing tapes.
In the album's liner notes, he writes: "I have no way of calculating the odds of finding the lost tapes through a chance encounter at a hockey practice, but they must be astronomical — like winning the lottery.”


Doug Gallant is a freelance writer and well-known connoisseur of a wide variety of music. His On Track column will appear in The Guardian every second Saturday. To comment on what he has to say or to offer suggestions for future reviews, email him at dpagallant@gmail.com.

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