Linda Ronstadt - Hand Sown… Home Grown; Silk Purse; Linda Ronstadt

BGO Records

Linda Ronstadt was one of a handful of great singers that provided the soundtrack for my twenties. Much is made of the trauma and the angst of our teenage years, but for me, my twenties were equally challenging—marriage, kids, buying our first house, work promotion and extra responsibility—they were tough years and the real life scenarios of country or country-inflected music helped me to get through. In particular, these three albums, originally released on Capitol Records between 1969 and 1972 made a massive impression on me at the time. It seemed as though I ‘really’ grew up with Linda Ronstadt spinning on my stereo. Her soaring voice broke my heart with tender, sometimes ironic, ballads like Long, Long Time, The Long Way Around and In My Reply—but that distinctive voice was also the perfect accompaniment as I jigged around the living room with one of the kids, trying to calm them down to the insistent beat of Silver Threads And Golden Needles or the funky The Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line.   

Despite Linda’s dismissal of these albums as rather average, they do contain some real gems. HAND SOWN … HOME GROWN was her first solo record after leaving the Stone Poneys. Produced by Chip Douglas, who had previously worked with the Monkees and the Turtles, it was a combination of some real country songs with some Stone Poney folkie influence to create a great listening experience. Featured were several covers, including two Dylan songs: Baby You’ve Been On My Mind and a honky-tonk version of I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, as well as an excellent cover of Randy Newman’s blues-influenced Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad. She was joined by her siblings on a spirited revival of Silver Threads And Golden Needles, offers a slice of country-gospel with We Need A Whole Lot More Jesus (And A Lot Less Rock’n’Roll) and showcases the purity of her voice with the folk-country of A Number And A Name, with the legendary Buddy Emmons providing the pedal steel guitar.

She picked Elliot Mazer to produce 1970’s SILK PURSE her second solo album in Nashville with a lean sound of some top flight studio players who were members of country-rock outfit Area Code 615. Mazer was recommended to her by Janis Joplin. With songs like Lovesick Blues, Mental Revenge and Life Is Like A Mountain Railway it has even more of a real country sound, though her first album I thought was pretty Nashville country for the time. Gary White’s Long, Long Time reached number 25 on the American singles chart and gained her a Grammy nomination. It’s a gorgeous performance with a lush, string-laden arrangement that sounds so different to the sparse country sounds of the rest of the album. Throughout the album her voice sounds much stronger and she certainly shows her vocal maturity on tracks such as the country favourite Lovesick Blues, where she delivers the vocals with such power she easily matches the late Patsy Cline. Just as impressive is her rendition of Mickey Newbury’s Are My Thoughts With You; her smoky vocal is deeper and more nuanced here, and her interpretative palette widened.

My personal favourite of this trio of albums is the self-titled LINDA RONSTADT set from 1972. Some background to the album: Linda ran into John Boylan at the Troubadour in Los Angeles where she performed sometimes. He put together a backup band for her in 1971,including Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon (later to become the Eagles). After honing their sound onstage, this bunch went into the studio to record the self-titled album, which has a more relaxed feel than her two previous releases. Linda still turns in an extremely strong performance on each track, including Jackson Browne’s Rock Me On The Water, Neil Young’s Birds, Johnny Cash’s I Still Miss Someone and Patsy Cline’s I Fall To Pieces. The latter was recorded live at the Troubadour with Linda being vocally superb with excellent support by Sneaky Pete (pedal steel), Gib Guilbeau (fiddle), Glenn Frey, John Boylan (guitars), Mike Bowden (bass) and Don Henley (drums). The highlight for me, though, is the bluegrass-flavoured Ramblin’ ‘Round; pure acoustic roots music magic.

With roots in the Los Angeles country and folk-rock scenes, Linda Ronstadt became one of the most popular interpretative singers of the 1970s, earning a string of platinum-selling albums and Top 40 singles. Throughout the 1970s, her laid-back pop never lost sight of her folky roots, yet as she moved into the 1980s, she began to change her sound with the times, adding new wave influences. After a brief flirtation with pre-rock pop, Ronstadt settled into a pattern of adult contemporary pop and Latin albums, sustaining her popularity in both fields.
Throughout her singing career, we could count on Linda Ronstadt to move us with her affecting interpretations of the songs she admired. These three albums were the very beginning of that amazing and successful career and should be essential listening for all bona fide country, Americana and country-rock music lovers.