music: ronstadt returns to her bluegrass roots- review by David Ciminelli
With a platinum track record and over 30 million albums sold to her credit, Linda Ronstadt reveals that the formula to her success lies in an underlying allegiance to the slow craft of songmaking. Sticking close to this ethic, the singer's workmanship has never wavered throughout her lengthy career, which spans nearly three decades.

Another secret of success may be Ronstadt's keen ability to cross all genres in music. Throughout her career, she has successfully molded the styles of bluegrass, rock, pop, big band orchestration, and Latin-influenced music into her work. Her latest release, Feels Like Home, is a fresh collection of mid-tempo music with smooth, beautiful harmonies that showcase Ronstadt's magnificent voice over soft compositions about love and the human spirit. Her voice is a pitch-perfect, soothing gift of quality and beauty. The disc has a rural feel and is stamped with the trademark bluegrass and rock stylings that Ronstadt helped pioneer into pop music in the late '60s.

Ronstadt opens Home with a faithful cover of Tom Petty's "The Waiting," complete with a subtle imitation of his familiar southern drawl. It seems appropriate that the singer would choose to cover Petty's work being that both artists share a similar graceful, mellow style and cite the same influences.

"When you're singing his material it really helps to know his influences first hand," explains Ronstadt. "At one point, I realized I was trying to sing like Tom Petty, who was singing like Roger McGuinn, who was singing like Bob Dylan, who was trying to copy Woody Guthrie. You wind up with all these people standing in your mouth."

Home comes across as a 28-years-in-the-making  thesis of everything Ronstadt has learned since making her pop debut in 1967 with The Stone Poneys. Ronstadt is a consummate professional, a musician's musician who has worked with and learned from the best in the industry. She began her professional career as a backup singer for renowned folk-rocker Neil Young. And, prior to their monumental success, the Eagles worked as Ronstadt's backup band.

Despite her status as a rock luminary, she often invites other artists to share the spotlight with her. Valerie Carter and Emmylou Harris make special appearances on Home and blend in perfect harmony with Ronstadt on a cover or Young's beautifully written "After The Gold Rush." The trio defy expectations and put forth a rendition even more compelling than the original song. Ronstadt may not write much of her own material, yet always manages to add her distinctive vocal style and thus claim each composition she covers as her own.

The singer concentrated most of her recent show at Universal Amphitheater on new material and showcased that the polished sound heard on Home is not a product of slick studio production, but of genuine talent. The live show was a collaborative effort of top notch talent: Ronstadt often shared lead vocals with her four backup singers and modestly (and literally) stepped out of the spotlight to let each of her musicians have his time centerstage.

Considering all she's accomplished in the field of music, it seems strange that Ronstadt has not yet entered the realm of divahood shared by the likes of Streisand, Ross, and Minnelli. The answer may lie in the fact that the singer is a confident professional with an endearing personality and stage presence that does not exude the stringent attitude her contemporaries share. The singer clearly enjoys her work; after countless years of life on the road her concert was as fresh as that of a new artist. She was enthusiastic even about the slow, melancholy songs she covered and half-jokingly stressed how "happy" it made her feel to sing them.

Ronstadt covered a selection of the classics that made her famous. "Heat Wave," "Blue Bayou," "You're No Good," and "Just One Look" were performed without a whisper of weariness. She seemed as excited about the material as the audience.

The passion and sentiment heard in the live versions of 'The Blue Train," "Teardrops Will Fall," and "High Sierra" (all from Home) were clear testament that nothing quite lifts the spirit like a good song. And few artists are as capable of fully enveloping an audience into the world of music as Linda Ronstadt.

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