New York Times, August 26, 1977

The Pop Life

by John Rockwell

LINDA RONSTADT'S new album, "Simple Dreams," should be in the record stores sometime next week. It's a beautiful disk, arguably her best. It will probably climb rapidly to one of the top positions on the sales charts, as her three previous albums have done (and as her Asylum "Greatest Hits" package did, too). But it will be interesting to follow the album's commercial progress, because one of the key cogs in the Ronstadt hit-making machine has dropped out.

That is Andrew Gold, who led the singer's band since the "Heart Like a Wheel" album of 1974 and who played a major role in the arrangements and execution of Miss Ronstadt's music. Mr. Gold is now involved full time in his own career - he had the recent top­10 hit "Lonely Boy" - and as a result, Miss Ronstadt has rearranged her band. She may be a quintessential Los Angeles singer, but the band is three-fifths from New York now - although Waddy Wachtel, the lead guitarist, has lived in Los Angeles for nearly a decade.

As "Lonely Boy" attests, Mr. Gold has a rare gift for the kind of pop "hook" that sticks in the mind - especially when he is working in conjunction with Peter Asher, Miss Ronstadt's manager and producer. The trouble is that Miss Ronstadt, for all her affection for Mr. Gold, began to worry about the direction in which her music was moving - too brittle and clever for the ballads, country tunes and rock­and-roll she liked to sing.

The new album, as its title hints, amounts to a reversion to basics ­ at one point, Miss Ronstadt was considering making her next album a self-produced old-time country and bluegrass affair, full of "picking" and duets, and "Simple Dreams" amounts to a compromise between the clarity and technical perfection of a Peter Asher-Los Angeles pop-rock disk and her earthier instincts. Thus there are two songs with just acoustic guitar and dobro (the wonderful Mike Auldridge) and one with piano alone, and a general absence of the busy cleverness that has been integral to Miss Ronstadt's albums since 1974. To this listener, it sounds superb, but will the public agree?

In its general mixture of songs and styles, thiS is still recognizably a Linda Ronstadt record. There are heartfelt ballads by John David Souther, Eric Kaz and Mr. Wachtel, a couple of Warren Zevon songs, a couple of folky traditionals and three oldies remakes - Roy Orbison's "Blue Bayou," Buddy Holly's "It's So Easy" and a Rolling Stones number, "Tumbling Dice."

On a first hearing, the two most striking songs are "Tumbling Dice" and one of the traditionals, "I Never Will Marry." The Stones song, which Miss Ronstadt learned from Mick Jagger, offers whatever proof might still be needed that she is a great rock singer, and the band spits out the instrumentals as raunchily as almost any Stones freak might want. "I Never Will Many" offers a duet on the choruses between Miss Ronstadt and Dolly Parton that is aboUt as moving as anything either has recorded.

There are other things to cherish here, too. "It's So Easy" is a charming remake; the Souther and Wachtel songs are both intensely touching, with eerily evocative guitar playing and a moaning vocal on the chorus of the second; Mr. Kaz's "Sorrow Lives Here" builds to a grand rhetorical climax with just piano accompaniment; Mr. Zevon's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" is not only spunkily sung, but also a nice choice for a singer often accused of self-pity, and the final number, "Old Paint," shows Miss Ronstadt at her campfire-cowgirl best.

This listener has some reservations. "Blue Bayou," which will be the first single, seems a not very interesting song, and Mr. Zevon's "Carmelita," although musically most attractive here, seems wrong for Linda Ronstadt - she is just not a strung-out heroin addict dreaming for his or her Tijuana girlfriend, and the sentimental little catch she puts on the word "heroin" seems misapplied.

Ronstadt fans will also be disappointed that she hasn't included any songs by herself - last year's "Hasten Down the Wind" had two.

"Simple Dreams" may ultimately appeal to people who have resisted Miss Ronstadt because of its more basic arrangements and a growing maturity and strength in her music and her persona. And even without Mr. Gold, it shouJd please those who love Miss Ronstadt already: That extraordinary voice is in as fine a shape as ever, and the emotion in nearly every song she sings should still move people deeply.

  • It's curious that Columbia Records is releasing Karla Bonoff's debut album, "Karla Bonoff," at precisely the same time as "Simple Dreams." Because for all her many virtues as a songwriter and singer, Miss Bonoff is still going to be considered as part of the Linda Ronstadt entourage. That identification isn't all bad, of course: it will win attention for her that other debut artists might not receive. But she will have to fight free of the Ronstadt connection eventually.

    There are 10 songs on her record, 8 of them originals. Of those, "Home" was on Bonnie Raitt's last album, and three were on Miss Ronstadt's "Hasten Down the Wind" - "Lose Again," "If He's Ever Near" and "Someone to Lay Down Beside Me." In addition, "Karla Bonoff" features the nearly complete 1976 Ronstadt band (including Miss Ronstadt on a couple of background vocals) and is prOduced by Kenny Edwards, Miss Ronstadt's bass player.

    In three of her four "cover versions" of her own songs, Miss Bonoff doesn't really surpass the versions people may already be familiar with.

    Still, Miss Bonoff has her distinct charms as a singer. Hers is a plainer, folkier, less opulent voice than Miss Ronstadt's, but as such it may appeal to those who find Miss Ronstadt too extroverted a belter. In one of her cover versions, "If He's Ever Near," Miss Bonoff is more haunting, more lonely and introspective and ultimately, more moving than Miss Ronstadt.

    In the four unfamiliar Bonoff songs and the two other tunes, Miss Bonoff, freed from comparisons, sings with real effectiveness. The two songs that stand out are a soft rocker with a Fleetwood Mac flavor called "I Can't Hold On" and a deeply touching ballad, "Rose in the Garden." But the whole disk - even the cover versions- is well worth hearing, and makes one look forward to Miss Bonoff's coming concert appearances.

  • Speaking of Miss Ronstadt, the singer broke off her performance in mid-set Wednesday night at the Rockland College Fieldhouse in Suffern, N.Y. She had been feeling tired and ill the last few days, and consulted physicians yesterday in Manhattan, but no decision was reached on whether her current tour would continue. Miss Ronstadt returned her Wednesday fee to the promoters and hopes to do a makeup concert.

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    Thanks to Rob Gallagher for providing this article.

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