Linda Ronstadt “Duets” Album Review

Linda Ronstadt

Prime Cuts: Somewhere Out There (with James Ingram), Don't Know Much (with Aaron Neville),  Moonlight in Vermont (with Frank Sinatra)

Last year our hearts were shattered when Linda Ronstadt announced that she could not sing any more.  Parkinson's disease has finally taken its toll on her that she could hardly strike a note.  Now she joins the hall of great voices which have been either silenced by death (Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse) or sickness.  Ever since such a bombshell of a news, fans have been scrambling to collect each and every single recording of Ronstadt.  Rhino Records have done well in reading the minds of avid fans.  "Duets" brings together songs Ronstadt has had collaborated before from as early as her 70s heyday to her final album of original songs "Adieu False Heart" in 2006.  Just like with every compilation, there are its pluses and minuses. Let's start with the minuses, since Ronstadt has cut an entire duet album "Western Wall" with Emmylou Harris in 1999, why were none of the songs included here?  And why do we have 3 songs from "Adieu False Heart" instead? 

With regards to the pluses, there are many.  But the sake of the economy of space, let's just elicit three praiseworthy aspects of this project.  First, "Duets" illustrates that despite winning 11 Grammy Awards, Ronstadt has had never allowed the glitter of these bronze statutes to blind her from bringing attention to lesser known artists and songwriters.  Though Ronstadt has had worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, she always has had a soft spot for the underdog.  "Pretty Bird," this collection's only previously unreleased track, finds Ronstadt tackling a song written by the late Hazel Dickens.  Dickens was one of the earliest female bluegrass singers to give voice to the often oppressed miners.  "Pretty Bird," sung here as a duet with Laurie Lewis, is a tender acoustic ballad that sings to such a theme albeit metaphorically.  

Second, "Duets" illustrates that Ronstadt can never be domesticated by genre or musical styles.  On her duet with Frank Sinatra "Moonlight in Vermont" Ronstadt shows that she can be just as posh, slick and polish as the grandest upstart on Broadway.  Then on the Carl Jackson duet "The New Partner Waltz" she shows that she can get as down home and gritty as the girl next door.  Over her four decade career, she has demonstrated that predictability is not an adjective definitive of her.  This is why we can the mariachi swing of "Sisters" (with Bette Midler) and we also get the horrid remake of Ike and Tine Turner's "I Think It's Gonna Work Out Fine."

Third, "Duets" shows Ronstadt is still best ballad singer out there.  In her autobiography, Ronstadt has often described herself as singer of ballads.  And we may add, she's definitely one of the best.  Romance gets re-defined with her Grammy winning song with Aaron Neville "Don't Know Much." And her American Tale love theme "Somewhere Out There" (with James Ingram) still strikes a bittersweet nostalgia after all these years.  Listening to how she can croon quietly with fragility and then transition into those big, high and elongated notes is itself an awe-filled moment itself.  It certainly fills our hearts with sadness to know we'll never be blessed with a brand new album by Ronstadt again.  So, let's treasure this icon while we still can with this newly released set.

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