In My Reply: Linda Ronstadt at 50

A half-century later, the singer’s seminal third album still sets the standard

Linda Ronstadt 1972 (Image: Reddit)

Some may argue otherwise — and perhaps, rightfully so considering what would come — but Linda Ronstadt’s self-titled third LP could arguably be called her best album overall.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

Released on January 17, 1972, it followed two earlier individual efforts that had allowed her to find her footing following her departure from her seminal outfit, the Stone Poneys. Recorded with a crew of soon-to-be country rock notables — future Eagles Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, pedal steel players Sneaky Pete Kleinow of the Flying Burrito Brothers and session stalwart Buddy Emmons, multi-instrumentalist Herb Pedersen, Jimmy Fadden of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and acclaimed fiddle player Gib Guilbeau — it was a singular achievement that garnered little appreciation at the time. 

Nevertheless, Linda Ronstadt proved to be an auspicious undertaking, both in terms of the execution — including various tracks that were recorded live at the iconic Troubadour nightclub in L.A. — and, equally significantly, as far as the song selection. The taste Ronstadt showed in her choice of material is evident throughout, given the fact that she literally spans the divide between archival  country and the emerging sounds of the Southern California singer/songwriter scene that carried on that tradition within its own special sphere. She knowingly taps one of Jackson Browne’s earliest offerings, “Rock Me On the Water,” preceding Browne’s single release by several months, while also besting innumerable other versions of the same song.

Linda Ronstadt Linda Ronstadt, Capitol Records 1972

Likewise, her take on Neil Young’s exceedingly mellow and melancholy “Birds” helped lift that song from obscurity and give it new life. Other contemporary covers — Livingston Taylor’s “In My Reply, Eric Kaz’s “I Won’t Be Hangin’ Around” and Eric Andersen’s “Faithful” in particular — showed that Ronstadt had a great ear when it came to choosing material that could be further amplified through her emotive, expressive vocals.

“Faithful” was an especially tasteful choice. Culled from Andersen’s remarkable Blue River album, which was still a month away from its own release, it boasted a chorus that took on its own particular poignancy through Ronstadt’s supple and sensitive treatment.

“They said loving you and leaving you is the hardest thing to do
To give my foot another chance
To try another shoe…”

The exquisite beauty and emotion shared in those sentiments takes the song to very brink of utter heartbreak.

Ronstadt culls that same degree of sensitivity in the standards she selected as well. “Crazy Arms” became classic courtesy of Ray Price, but other versions soon followed by Mickey Gilley, Barbara Mandrell and (albeit precedingly) Patsy Cline, among them. Here again, Rondtadt breaks down the barrier that still existed at the time between classic country and contemporary mainstream music. The same could be said of the way she takes “I Fall To Pieces,” another equally arched expression of ache and despair, and interprets it as entirely her own. That’s particularly true of the way she treats Johnny Cash’s lonely lament, “I Still Miss Someone,” another measure of the way Ronstadt was able to straddle two worlds quite comfortably. 

 

 

That said, Ronstadt ventured even further, tackling material at the opposite ends of the stylistic spectrum — from Woody Guthrie’s troubadour tale “Ramblin’ Round” to the exuberant outpouring of the R&B classic “Rescue Me,” first made famous by Fontella Bass. Both songs set the stage for the various paths Ronstadt would follow later on as she nimbly veered between an array of other genres — country, pop, Latin, and even light opera — all the while proving herself to be a master of them all.

Ironically, the album’s failure to find favor with the mainstream market prompted Ronstadt to leave Capitol Records and initiate a more fruitful career on Asylum Records, a label that seemed better suited to her early Americana leanings. Greater success would follow, beginning with the final album she owed Capitol, Heart Like a Wheel, which, ironically, made her a major player and set the course for all that followed.

Ronstadt’s superstardom was assured thereafter, but regardless, it was Linda Ronstadt that set the standard. 

 

VIDEO: Linda Ronstadt on the Midnight Special 1972

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

One thought on “In My Reply: Linda Ronstadt at 50

  • January 26, 2022 at 4:51 pm
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    Wonderful appreciation of Ronstadt’s landmark self-titled album. A couple years before her Stardom it remains a seminal blending of rock, Country and Western delivered by fine devoted players surrounding that gorgeous voice. With a rare combination of tenderness and power Linda makes you believe every word. A songwriter’s champion for sure. Please, however, spell her name correctly. Ronstadt. Thanks

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