|Feels Like Home|
|BEST RECORDING OF THE MONTH|
|Linda Ronstadt Comes Home|
Ever since the early Seventies, Linda Ronstadt has been
one of popular music's most versatile singers, distinguishing
herself first as a compelling interpreter of the singer/
songwriter period and going on to record albums of rock
and soul, country and folk, adult contemporary, classic
pop standards, mariachi music, and even opera. Yet her
biggest influence is as a big-voiced California country
rocker, and in the Nineties a number of country females,
including Trisha Yearwood and Martina McBride, have cited
Ronstadt as an inspiration for both her emotional depth
and her tonal purity.
With her new album, "Feels Like Home," Ronstadt returns to the country-accented folk and rock she premiered in 1974 with "Heart Like a Wheel." Her exceptional soprano has deepened and taken on additional colors since then, and her phrasing has gotten more adventurous. Producer George Massenburg goes a tad over the line here with a gauzy, over-orchestrated version of Neil Young's After the Gold Rush, where Ronstadt is joined in trio vocals by Emmylou Harris and Valerie Carter, but on the whole "Feels Like Home" is her best album in many years.
The biggest surprise of the record is a mandolin/bluegrassy treatment of Tom Petty's The Waiting. Sung full-tilt, as opposed to Petty's more subtle reading of the lyrics, the song seems less a quiet declaration of joy and release than a shout-it-to-the-world exaltation. While "Feels Like Home," titled after Randy Newman's hymn of thanks for a loving relationship, is a bit too reserved and low-key in its choice of material (the closest Ronstadt comes to a cut-loose, rock-out raveup is on Matraca Berg's Walk On), it's an inordinately pretty record, from Ronstadt, Harris, and Claire Lynch's magnificent harmony vocals on the A.P. Carter country-folk offering Lover's Return to the poetry of David Olney's Women 'Cross the River to the ongoing sense of loss on The Blue Train, previously recorded in a less pristine, more aching version by Maura O'Connell. Guest instrumental performances by fiddler Alison Krauss, mandolinist David Grisman, and slide guitarist Roy Rogers add yet another level of superior musicianship.
Aside from merely making good music, though, Ronstadt has done something else with this album - she's taken herself out of the "inspiration" class and made herself a contender again. Welcome back, songbird.