With mid-'70s records like "Heart Like a Wheel" and "Hasten Down the Wind," Ronstadt redefined pop-country crossover for the soft-rock era. Twenty years later, with progeny like Mary Chapin Carpenter and Wynonna Judd perfecting her technique, it's only natural that Ronstadt should step up and reclaim some turf. But there's a glitch. She has taken frequent sabbaticals from the mainstream in recent years; since 1980 she's released (among other things) a new-wave album, three pop standard albums, two traditional Mexican albums, a Latin album and a country-trio album with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton- and she's sung Gilbert and Sullivan and Mimi in "La Bohème." So instead of the homecoming that its title implies, "Feels Like Home" comes off as one more eccentric effort by an artist whose unpredictability is becoming her trademark. Bob Dylan and Neil Young have nothing on this woman. She opens with a mandolin-flavored remake of a 1981 Tom Petty tune, "The Waiting," her pristine voice bizarrely mimicking Petty's slurred syllables and droopy vowels. A version of Young's "After the Gold Rush" also fits into the category of covers we're not sure we needed to hear Ronstadt sing. (She inexplicably cleans up the song's well-known drug reference, "I felt like getting high," to "I felt like I could cry.") But when she hunkers down to the real country material, like Uncle Dave Macon's "Morning Blues," Ronstadt makes time slip away. There's a reason she became famous for singing this stuff; every crusty old banjo tune should be touched by such dizzying beauty.
Yearwood sings as if she had studied every trick in Ronstadt's book. She can belt, swoon or yowl as the lyric demands, all without missing a note. Ever since her 1991 breakthrough single, "She's in Love With the Boy," Yearwood has excelled at carefree, exuberant songs about girls who do exactly what they want, regardless of consequences. "XXX's and 000's (An American Girl)," from "Thinkin' About You," describes simple dreams, '90s style: "Go to work make up try to keep the balance up / between love and money." A faithful version of Melissa Etheridge's "You Can Sleep While I Drive" seems tailored to the album's themes of restlessness and discontent. But too much of "Thinkin'" trades the spunk of fiddle and pedal steel for the more adult sophistication of piano and strings. Yearwood and Ronstadt both need to be wary of the pitfalls of crossing over. Between two genres is a no man's land that no woman wants to get lost in.