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Review: Linda Ronstadt, “Duets”

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Linda Ronstadt - DuetsTonight, Linda Ronstadt receives her long-overdue recognition into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But rock and roll, of course, played only a small – if key – role in Ronstadt’s career. The breadth of that career is revealed on Rhino’s new release of Linda Ronstadt – Duets (Rhino R2 542161), containing fourteen tracks originally released between 1974 and 2006 plus one previously unreleased performance. While there are no duets here from Ronstadt’s Tony-nominated turn in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta The Pirates of Penzance or her Mexican recordings , her immersions into the realms of country, folk, jazz, R&B, and of course, Southern California rock are all here. She’s joined by a “Who’s who” of artists including Frank Sinatra, James Taylor, Bette Midler, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Aaron Neville, James Ingram, and J.D. Souther.  Ronstadt won’t be attending tonight’s ceremony, but her music speaks for itself.

Compiled and remastered by her longtime manager, John Boylan, Duets is a reminder of just how catholic Ronstadt’s tastes were. From her earliest days as a member of country-rock band The Stone Poneys (“Different Drum”), she refused to be pigeonholed in one genre. On Duets, the songs of Irving Berlin and Warren Zevon are performed with the same sympathetic understanding and respect for the art of the song. Boylan has neatly sequenced the compilation as a musical travelogue from folk to country to rock to standards, both modern and vintage.  The sound changes along with the style of song, building and growing from acoustic to orchestral.

Three selections from Ronstadt’s final studio recording, 2006’s Adieu False Heart with Cajun singer Ann Savoy, open Duets. Their tight harmonies on the low-key opening cut, “Adieu, False Heart,” are adorned with light acoustic flourishes, and the already-poignant song takes on additional meaning when placed in context as likely the concluding chapter of Ronstadt’s career as a vocalist. Of the three Savoy duets, however, the most revelatory is their reinvention of The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee.” This folk reinterpretation of Michael Brown’s song can’t help but bring to mind Ronstadt’s famous recasting of “oldies” from Motown to Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers into her own style.

Though Bette Midler is the partner on the fun, Barry Manilow-arranged recording of Irving Berlin’s “Sisters,” Ronstadt’s truest sisters in song might be Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton. Though there are no recordings here from their Trio recordings, each is represented on one track. On the traditional “I Never Will Marry,” accompanied by just acoustic guitars (Waddy Wachtel and Ronstadt) and dobro (Mike Auldridge), Ronstadt and Parton’s voices blend with a beautiful simplicity. More boisterous is the delightfully bright bounce of Ronstadt and Harris’ take on Hank Williams’ familiar “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You).” Peter Asher’s clean production, featuring the tireless Andrew Gold on guitar, piano and ukelele along with “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow on steel guitar and David Lindley on fiddle, made no concessions to the sound of rock circa 1974. Ronstadt’s affinity for classic country recurs throughout her catalogue, and she blends exquisitely with Carl Jackson on a 2003, fiddle-and-dobro-flecked rendition of The Louvin Brothers’ chestnut “The New Partner Waltz.”

Keep reading after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 10, 2014 at 10:45

Release Round-Up: Week of April 8

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Waterloo 40ABBA, Waterloo: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits – 40th Anniversary Edition (Polar/UMC)

In celebration of the Swedish quartet’s breakthrough single (and Eurovision contest winner), here are two of many planned ABBA catalogue projects for the year – a CD/DVD expansion of the band’s 1974 album with plenty of rare video footage, and a triple-disc set featuring the band’s best-selling 1992 compilation, a 1993 sequel, More Gold: More ABBA Hits and a new disc of single B-sides.

WaterlooAmazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
ABBA Gold: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Bobby Darin ShowBobby Darin, The Bobby Darin Show (MPI)

Thirteen full-length episodes of the great entertainer’s NBC variety show make it to DVD with guest appearances from Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Peggy Lee, Nancy Sinatra and more!  The 3-DVD set also includes bonus material such as newsreel, promo and documentary footage. (Amazon U.S.)

Emmylou - Wrecking Ball DeluxeEmmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball: Deluxe Edition (Nonesuch)

Harris’ Grammy-winning 1995 album, produced by Daniel Lanois, is expanded with a bonus disc of a dozen outtakes and a new documentary on the making of the LP. (Amazon U.S. /Amazon U.K.)

Linda Ronstadt - DuetsLinda Ronstadt, Duets (Rhino)

As we prepare for Ronstadt’s deserved acceptance into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this week, this compilation offers several of her greatest hits with partners. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Evelyn Champagne King AnthologyChaka Khan, Chaka: 35th Anniversary Edition / Evelyn “Champagne” King, Action – The Evelyn “Champagne” King Anthology 1977-1986 (Big Break Records)

Chaka’s debut solo album and a new Evelyn King compilation are up from the U.K. soul reissue label this week. As always, a full rundown of BBR’s titles will be coming soon!

Chaka: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Evelyn: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

 

Jo Stafford Live In LondonJo Stafford, Live in London 1959 (Sepia)

Sepia unearths a rare concert from the late vocalist, recorded at the London Palladium and featuring songs by Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter and others. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Written by Mike Duquette

April 8, 2014 at 07:53

UPDATE – Bring On Your “Wrecking Ball”: Emmylou Harris Classic Revisited By Nonesuch Label As 2-CD/1-DVD Set

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Emmylou - Wrecking Ball DeluxeBefore Bruce Springsteen unleashed his Wrecking Ball or Miley Cyrus her “Wrecking Ball,” Emmylou Harris gave her 1995 studio album, produced by Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan) that title after a Neil Young composition.  Harris’ Wrecking Ball embraced a more explicitly cutting-edge “rock” sound than many of her past traditional country efforts, and earned the artist a 1996 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Recording.  On April 8, Nonesuch Records (sister label to Elektra/Asylum, the original home of Wrecking Ball) will reissue this seminal alt-country effort in a deluxe 2-CD/1-DVD edition including an entire disc of previously unissued music and a new documentary film about the making of the album.  We first filled you in back on February 7 about this release, but we now have additional information including pre-order links!

Harris and Lanois selected a hip array of songs for her eighteenth studio release.   Wrecking Ball included renditions of Young’s title track and compositions by Steve Earle (“Goodbye”), Anna McGarrigle (“Goin’ Back to Harlan”), Bob Dylan (“Every Grain of Sand”), Lucinda Williams (“Sweet Old World”), Gillian Welch (“Orphan Girl”), Julie Miller (“All My Tears”) and even Jimi Hendrix (“May This Be Love”).  Songs by Lanois (“Where Will I Be,” “Blackhawk”) and Harris herself (“Deeper Well” with Lanois and David Olney, and “Waltz Across Texas Tonight” with Rodney Crowell) rounded out the eclectic set.  Tackling these diverse, accomplished songwriters was natural for Harris, who had previously recorded the songs of Lennon and McCartney, Pomus and Shuman, Chuck Berry, Paul Simon and her musical soulmate Gram Parsons alongside those by Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Dolly Parton and The Louvin Brothers.

Steve Earle, Neil Young, Lucinda Williams and Kate and Anna McGarrigle all performed on Wrecking Ball, along with a core band of Harris, Lanois, U2’s Larry Mullen, Jr., Malcolm Burn, Tony Hall and Daryl Johnson.   Following its release in September 1995, the album peaked on the Billboard 200 at No. 94, and received critical acclaim from outlets including Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Uncut and The Los Angeles Times.  Today, almost twenty years later, Harris continues to meld both the traditional and alt-country worlds to great effect, most recently on Old Yellow Moon, her Grammy-winning collaboration with Crowell.

What extras will you find on the upcoming reissue?  Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 4, 2014 at 16:07

Somewhere Out There: Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest “Duets” Arrive On CD in April

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Linda Ronstadt - DuetsOn April 10, Linda Ronstadt joins the class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – an honor that was certainly not needed to acknowledge Ronstadt’s place as among the top vocalists of her generation, but a welcome and long-overdue honor nonetheless.  Two days earlier, Rhino celebrates the career of the versatile artist with the release of Linda Ronstadt – Duets.  Its fifteen tracks encompass performances alongside artists including Aaron Neville, Emmylou Harris, Don Henley, Frank Sinatra, James Taylor, Dolly Parton, James Ingram and others, including one previously unreleased recording with bluegrass musician Laurie Lewis.

Curated with the cooperation of Ronstadt and her longtime manager, John Boylan, Duets touches on the varied sides of Ronstadt the artist.  Since her earliest days as a member of The Stone Poneys, she’s refused to allow herself to be pigeonholed in one genre.  That inclination towards musical exploration has led her to treat the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, Rodgers and Hart, Warren Zevon, Lowell George, and Jackson Browne with the same kind of respect and innate understanding.  The Rock Hall induction comes on the heels of the publication of Ronstadt’s memoir Simple Dreams and her sad announcement that Parkinson’s disease has left her unable to sing.  Ronstadt has never completely fit in with the rock clique, despite having placed 38 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 (including ten that went Top Ten) and 36 entries on the album chart, including ten that reached the Top Ten there too, and three that hit the top spot!

Duets draws on a variety of sources spanning 1974 to 2006.  A number of tracks show Ronstadt’s love of country music, including duets with her Trio partners Dolly Parton (1977’s “I Never Will Marry”) and Emmylou Harris (1974’s Grammy-winning “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)”).  Other tracks draw on the group of Southern California/Laurel Canyon rockers in which Ronstadt flourished commercially and artistically; Eagles’ Don Henley joins Ronstadt on the harmonies of Warren Zevon’s “Hasten Down the Wind,” and J.D. Souther sings on his own “Prisoner in Disguise.”  James Taylor, who shared a producer with Ronstadt in Peter Asher and recorded many of his best works with that SoCal flavor, duets on a revival of the Ike and Tina Turner staple “I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.”  Ronstadt, whose three collaborations with Nelson Riddle remain among the finest expressions of her art, is heard on a couple of Great American Songbook standards via “Moonlight in Vermont” with Frank Sinatra from Old Blue Eyes’ Duets II project, and Irving Berlin’s “Sisters” with Bette Midler from Midler’s 2003 Rosemary Clooney tribute album produced by Barry Manilow.

Among the most successful tracks here are the Grammy-winning “Somewhere Out There” written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and James Horner for Don Bluth’s 1986 animated film An American Tail, on which Ronstadt duets with James Ingram, and two tracks with New Orleans’ legendary Aaron Neville from their joint album Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind.  “Don’t Know Much” reunited Ronstadt with Mann and Weil, this time writing with Tom Snow.  The song had been performed previously by Mann, Bill Medley, Bette Midler, Glenn Jones and even Dallas actress Audrey Landers, but Ronstadt and Neville took it all the way to No. 2 Pop/No. 1 AC in 1989, also picking up a Grammy for their trouble.  “All My Life,” written by Karla Bonoff, won yet another Grammy, and though it barely missed the Pop Top 10 at No. 11, it also topped the AC chart.  Ronstadt had been an early champion of Bonoff’s songs, recording three of them on 1976’s Hasten Down the Wind.  The three most recent tracks on Duets hail from what will likely remain Ronstadt’s final studio album, Adieu False Heart with Cajun music singer Ann Savoy, including a cover of the Left Banke’s 1966 hit “Walk Away Renée.”

After the jump: more on Duets, including the complete track listing and pre-order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 21, 2014 at 09:44

Hard-Core Troubadour: Steve Earle’s Warner Bros. LPs, Unreleased Live Sets Boxed by Shout! Factory

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Earle WBAfter two straight country albums for MCA, Steve Earle made a major breakthrough with 1988’s Copperhead Road, which fused his more roots-oriented stylings with elements of traditional rock and metal. Just as impressive, though, was his late ’90s comeback after a prolonged period of inactivity, drug problems and incarceration.

Three of Earle’s albums from the latter half of that decade are coming back into print in a new box set from Shout! Factory. The Warner Bros. Years collects 1995’s Train A Comin’, 1996’s I Feel Alright and 1997’s El Corazón along with a bonus CD and DVD of unreleased live material.

Earle was on the edge of ruin after a conviction for drug possession that led to a stint in jail to get himself clean. He’d not released a studio album since 1990, and hadn’t gone on tour since 1992. Slowly but surely, he began to tackle his demons through songwriting, finding his skills improving with every step toward recovery. The result, Train A Comin’, was released on the Winter Harvest label in 1995 and soon picked up for wider distribution by Warner Bros. Packing strong originals (“Sometimes She Forgets,” “Goodbye,” “Angel is the Devil”) alongside covers of The Beatles (“I’m Looking Through You”) and Earle’s idol Townes Van Zandt (“Tecumseh” Valley”), Train A Comin’ received high critical marks and a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

The strong albums I Feel Alright and El Corazón followed in the two years after Train A Comin’; they too featured killer cuts like “Feel Alright,” “CCKMP” (a haunting reminder of Earle’s drug past), “Ft. Worth Blues” and “Christmas in Washington.” Guests included Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and the Del McCoury Band.

The Warner Bros. Years closes with two live sets: one on CD from Nashville’s Polk Theater (his first since getting out of jail) and a court-appointed show at Tennessee’s Cold Creek Correctional Facility in 1996. (Neither have been commercially released, although the latter was aired on MTV under the title To Hell and Back.Live At The Polk Theater 1995 features guest appearances by Emmylou Harris and bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, the latter of whom was a surprise even to Earle.

Featuring a booklet with original artwork, a new introduction by Earle and liner notes by David Simon, creator of HBO’s acclaimed The Wire (which made great use of Earle’s songs in its run), The Warner Bros. Years shines a new light on this phase of Earle’s career. It hits stores June 25; pre-orders from the label will receive a copy of the booklet signed by Earle.

Hit the jump for the full specs! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

April 24, 2013 at 14:50