Linda Ronstadt: Duets

Linda Ronstadt
Linda Ronstadt
Rating: 2 1/2 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

In the tradition of the recording industry never missing an opportunity to wring extra bucks out of existing work, Linda Ronstadt’s long awaited induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year is greeted with a quickie cash-in compilation. There’s no doubt that the prolific Ronstadt deserves the accolades and attention by way of a package of her career highlights. Unfortunately for the suits, those already exist. Take your choice from a variety of price points including 1999’s sadly out of print lavish four-platter box.

So what we get is a slapped together, liner notes free batch of duets with only one rarity (a lovely, a cappella tune with bluegrass singer Laurie Lewis) that at 15 tracks barely breaks 50 minutes. While it’s all pleasant, none of these ballad heavy, and occasionally schmaltzy (we’re talking to you Aaron Neville and James Ingram) performances exactly screams rock and roll. Although induction into the R&R HOF doesn’t seem to require any actual rock and roll in the artist’s repertoire (ABBA? really?), Ronstadt has certainly sung her share. If we needed a fresh title to commemorate her induction, a set of rockers would be a welcome addition.

Instead we get easily available tracks that most fans already own and with plenty of omissions even respecting the duets tag. Her work with George Jones, Little Feat, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Wendy Waldman and, perhaps most conspicuously, Johnny Cash (she famously sang with him on his TV show) would have made welcome additions. And surely there were other unreleased performances that could have been dusted off and licensed, if someone tried to find them. Even though Emmylou Harris does appear, Ronstadt’s entire Western Wall: The Tuscan Sessions duo album with her is surprisingly MIA.

Still, anything the singer wraps her impressive pipes around is worth hearing so there remains plenty to enjoy here, especially her early work with California country rock peers J.D. Souther, Don Henley and James Taylor. And the trio of under-the-radar 2003 Ann Savoy recordings that opens the disc, in particular a stunning read of the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee,” may alone be worth its price.

But, those new to Ronstadt’s eclectic and bulging catalog have better choices to catch up on her distinctive and timeless voice. They would do well to pick from the many other existing collections of her work and leave this tossed together patchwork hodgepodge, from the usually reliable Rhino folks, alone.


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