Linda Ronstadt – Live In Hollywood – Rhino Entertainment R2 574477 [2/1/2019], 43:39 ****1/2:
(Linda Ronstadt – vocals; Dan Dugmore – guitar, pedal steel; Bob Glaub – bass; Russell Kunkel – drums; Peter Asher – percussion, vocals; Danny Kortchmar – guitar; Kenny Edwards – banjo, guitar, backing vocals; Billy Payne – keyboards; Wendy Waldman – backing vocals)
Nearly fifty years into her illustrious career, Linda Ronstadt has released her first live album (Rhino Entertainment). Live In Hollywood was recorded on April 24,1980 for her HBO special at Television Center Studios in Hollywood. While there had been low-quality DVDs of this night, the master tapes were lost. Producer John Boylan, in a stroke of luck, was able to retrieve these “missing” masters from a chance meeting at a youth hockey game. And for music fans, this is very good news. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame singer was in peak vocal form, promoting the Mad Love album. Her all-star band featured guitarists Dan Dugmore, Danny Kortchmar (James Taylor) and Kenny Edwards (Stone Poneys), with a rhythm section consisting of Bob Glaub (bass) and Russ Kunkel (drums). Peter Asher and Wendy Waldman provided backup vocals, and the inimitable Billy Payne (Little Feat) was on keyboards. Ronstadt who is known for her meticulous interpretation of ballads and rock songs, seems to crank up the overall energy from the start. “I Can’t Let Go” (from Mad Love) was a hit for The Hollies, and Ronstadt and her band put a decidedly late 70’s spin on the song. Layered guitars and background vocals surround the fierce vocals. By this time, she was a seasoned rock performer and it is apparent. Her grittiness comes across on the update of Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy: from the 1977 album Simple Dreams. There is a memorable a cappella coda. Switching gears, Ronstadt shines on the epic Little Feat road tune, “Willin’”. Even in quieter contexts, her vocal prowess and technical grace is palpable. Payne gets to solo on piano (in his customary nimble style), and combined with Dugmore’s slide, it is a fitting homage to Lowell George who passed away in 1979.
Rontadt has related in interviews that her band mates had always encouraged her to do more “up tempo” material. This has led to some of her greatest recordings. One of these is Doris Roberts’ doo-wop “Just One Look”. With soulful backup singing and rocking instrumentals, Ronstadt belts it out and makes it her own. She glides into her unforgettable cover of Roy Orbison’s evocative “Blue Bayou”. Like Orbison, Ronstadt’s range and technique approximate operatic elasticity. She handles the verses with sultry fluency. Her voice soars on the chorus. It’s hard to imagine another singer who can take on this number. She ends the song in Spanish with the closing falsetto note. Her voice exudes crystalline resonance and has a subtle vibrato. Showcasing her folk roots, J.D. Souther’s “Faithless Love” is rendered with exquisite tenderness. Her ability to sustain a note and sing in velvet harmony is impressive. She approaches her voice as an instrument and demonstrates great flexibility. This singer has enjoyed success from unlikely material. Little Anthony And The Imperials’ 1965 r & b hit “Hurt So Bad” seemed like a dated 60’s ballad. Ronstadt breathes new life into her version with pitch-perfect fierceness. Her take on Warren Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” is lively, but it is difficult for anyone to adequately express the intensity and social maladjustment of Zevon.
Ronstadt unleashes her vocal fury on another r & b classic, “You-re No Good”. Her tough, robust singing is equalled by the band’s jamming at the end with another terrific acapella part. The performance hits an apex here and the group keeps the energy high with a hard-driving almost punk delivery on “How Do I Make You”. Ronstadt cuts loose with Little Richard type ferocity. Drawing on another rock and roll icon, Chuck Berry’s “Livin’ In The U.S.A.” is faithful to its roots legacy. The Berry guitar riffs, Jerry Lee Lewis piano runs and rhythmic vocal phrasing is top-notch. If anyone ever wanted to experience the full artistry of Linda Ronstadt’s erudite, compelling musical talent, then listening to her sing “Desperado” should do the job. Don Henley has acknowledged that Ronstadt’s recording of this song resurrected it from the obscurity of the Eagles’ unappreciated album. In a duet with Payne, there is a gospel strength that is spellbinding. Payne’s elegant playing is matched by Ronstadt’s glowing voice and agility.
Linda Ronstadt was a trailblazer. She was a dominant rock and roll singer in a male-dominated genre and stood tall. Her musical career extended to light opera, opera, Spanish folk songs and The Great American Songbook. It is a treat to have a recording of this unique talent. The integrity of the audio quality is captured with finesse and verve. The primary instrument, this dazzling voice, is rendered with warmth and subtlety during quieter moments. The muscular fidelity is also on display with tonal vitality.
I Can’t Let Go
It’s So Easy
Just One Look
Hurt So Bad
Poor Poor Pitiful Me
You’re No Good
How Do I Make You
Back In The U.S.A
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