Simple Dreams — Expanded Edition
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Those who didn’t live through Linda Ronstadt’s heyday, which lasted the majority of the 1970s, probably don’t realize just how huge of a star she was. Platinum album sales, sold out arena tours, high-profile television appearances and a key player in the formation of the Eagles (once her backing band), all contributed to a historic pop music run that seemed like it would never end.
Listening to albums like 1977’s Simple Dreams, now somewhat oddly the first of her remarkable set of releases to be remastered and expanded (roots fans might have preferred ‘74’s more authentic Heart Like a Wheel that included Frey, Henley and Emmylou Harris among others), hints at what made her so popular.
Ronstadt’s instantly recognizable voice could be gritty as on her rocking covers of Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy” and a perfectly credible take on the Stones’ “Tumbling Dice,” as well as warm and tender. The latter she exhibited on exquisite versions of Warren Zevon’s edgy tale of drug addiction, “Carmelita,” and a riveting top five charting rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou,” a concert favorite also available here as one of three live extras in a thrilling on-stage performance.
On the debit side is Peter Asher’s often slick and dated production, most annoying in his use of the cringe-worthy “syndrums” so popular during that era. Thankfully, he generally stays out of the way on the album’s more rustic pieces such as Ronstadt’s charming take on traditionals “Old Paint” and “I Never Will Marry,” the latter a duet with Dolly Parton which serves as a preview to the Trio album a decade later. Guitarist Waddy Wachtel’s acoustic “Maybe I’m Right” isn’t quite up to the songwriting level of J.D. Souther’s lovely, chamber string-enhanced ballad “Simple Man, Simple Dream,” or a solo piano backed performance of Eric Kaz’s “Sorrow Lives Here,” but all are examples of Ronstadt’s spine-tingling vocals.
Even with three bonus concert tunes on this moderately “expanded edition,” the album doesn’t break 45 minutes. It makes you wonder why the compilers didn’t dig up some outtakes, demos or more concert footage to fill up over thirty minutes of unused CD space, and leaves this as a missed opportunity to further explore a fertile period in Ronstadt’s career.