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Old 08-21-2011, 10:05 AM   #165 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Cry like a rainstorm, howl like the wind --- Linda Ronstadt --- 1989 (Elektra)


Now, I wouldn't say I'm a huge fan of Linda Ronstadt. I don't hate her music, but she's one of those artists who I know exists, but whose music I have never felt compelled to listen to at any length. That changed when she released this album in 1989, and as a matter of history it turned out to be one of her biggest-selling and successful; in a career spanning over half a decade and almost twenty-five albums, that's quite an accolade. The presence of Neville Brothers' Aaron Neville does help, but to be totally fair to Linda, this is her album and has her stamp all over it.

In fact, Neville only helps out on four of the twelve tracks on the album. Tellingly though, it's two of those four which gave her successive number one hit singles, though in fainess there are much better tracks on the album, as we will discover. The album also features a huge, panoramic sound, helped by the inclusion of the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and the Tower of Power horns.

Interestingly, and a little disappointingly for someone of her calibre as a songwriter, there is no input on any of the tracks from her in terms of writing. There are people like Jimmy Webb, Paul Carrack, Nick Lowe and Karla Bonof involved, and some cover versions included, but nothing written by Ronstadt herself. Minus one in hit points then for that (D&D in-joke: if you're not a nerd, you won't get it!)

The album opens with a really nice ballad, detailing the idea of someone holding on to the memories of a lover through the sound of their voice on the radio. “Still within the sound of my voice” would certainly sound autobiographical, if Linda had written it, but as noted above, this is not the case. In some ways, it's quite similar to “Superstar”, made famous by the Carpenters and Elkie Brooks, though told this time from the perspective of the one who has left, and not the one left behind. It's a gentle but powerful ballad, with great instrumentation and Linda as ever in full voice, but it's really when the title track gets going that we get a feel for the overpowering scope of the sound of the album.

Although shortened to “Cry like a rainstorm”, the song is introduced on a massive chorus which I assume must be the already-mentioned Oaklands Interfaith Gospel Choir, and becomes a big bluesy ballad which perfectly characterises the album's sound. Robbie Buchanan on the organ adds a lot to the song here, as does Andrew Gold on twelve-string, with the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra filling out the soundcape to massive proportions, and certainly giving the impression of travelling along wide, rolling prairies and across yawning deserts.

Aaron Neville makes his first appearance on “All my life”, which is okay, a good song and one of the singles to reach number one, but it's nothing special, nor in my opinion is the other hit single, “Don't know much”, again with Neville, and this time a cover version recorded by, among others, the Righteous Brothers' Bill Medley and Bette Midler. I personally don't feel Neville adds much to any of the songs here, and his somewhat nasally, whiny voice grates on my nerves, but hey, that's just me. You may love him.

It's tracks that largely went unnoticed like the formidable “Adios”, with its piano melody and its simple lyric that work best for me, Ronstadt's voice suited perfectly to lines like ”Ran away from home/ When I was seventeen/ To be with you/ On the California coast.” Backing vocals from the legendary Brian Wilson give this song the Beach Boys sound, but it's the heartbreaking tension in this song that really makes it work. This is something that I feel is very much missing from the aforementioned singles, but present in abundance in “I keep it hid” --- both, incidentally, written by Jimmy Webb. It's simple, human emotion that carries this track, with Linda at her most vulnerable when she sings ”Why can't I just walk up to/ That old love of mine and say/ Baby how you been doing?/ I still love you like I did.” The orchestration and the choir coming in on this track gives it a real epic feel, almost in contrast to “Adios”, but both work perfectly.

It's not only the ballads, now, that are good on this album, though I may be giving that impression. The pure fun of “Trouble again”, when Ronstadt holds a note about the longest I've heard in a while, proving that even at the age of forty-three (at the time this was recorded: she's sixty-five now, and probably still sounding great!) she still has it, has the band really rocking out, enjoying themselves. And one of my favourite tracks on the album, the old Sam and Dave song “When something is wrong with my baby”, gets my vote, even if it does have Neville on it! The bluesy beat helps to up the tempo on the album, and the choir really get into their groove on “So right, so wrong”, with Linda demonstrating why she has one of the strongest and most respected voices in music. But really, we do keep coming back to the ballads, and it's these that form the glue that holds this opus together.

“Shattered” is again Linda at her most forlorn, singing mostly against a piano backing for most of the track and baring her soul, before the orchestra comes in to lift the track to a new level before it ends, and the closer, “Goodbye my friend”, probably the most tender farewell song I have heard since James Blunt's “Goodbye my lover”, is just perfection, with lines like ”Goodbye my friend/ I know I'll never see you again/ But the times together through all the years/ Will take away these tears/ I'm okay now.” Very touching, simple song to finish the album on a low-key but almost flawless note.

It's probably unlikely I'll go exploring Linda Ronstadt's back catalogue, and I doubt I'll search out her albums since this, but though this was something of a pleasant surprise to me, it's one of those albums that gets a regular airing from time to time. After twenty years it's apparently been deleted, though I'm sure you can find it somewhere, comrade (!) if you know where to look. Definitely worth the time spent searching.

TRACKLISTING

1. Still within the sound of my voice
2. Cry like a rainstorm
3. All my life
4. I need you
5. Don't know much
6. Adios
7. Trouble again
8. I keep it hid
9. So right, so wrong
10. Shattered
11. When something is wrong with my baby
12. Goodbye my friend
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