|Hasten Down the Wind|
Better writers than I have been left sputtering and grumpy,
attempting to solve the Puzzle of Linda Ronstadt: great voice
and star aura, but not one consistently good album. I have a
rather simple solution, which I voice occasionally and at which
point the conversation invariably turns to the price of food.
Linda Ronstadt should record a completely upbeat album, something
just crammed with fast songs- fast old rock & roll, fast country,
fast rock. It'd work, and it'd loosen her up for when she
returned to the maudlin stuff.
Speaking of which, Hasten Down the Wind is almost completely comprised. I can't help but suspect that Ronstadt, after so many LPs of ponderous ballads and histrionic weepers, thinks that singing slow songs is the equivalent of singing "seriously," of showing that she is "sensitive" and "thoughtful." Peter Asher's skill at locating the appropriate musical settings for her flings at eclecticism- and Ronstadt has glowed all the brighter as a result of his production and advisement- has finally reached its limit on Hasten. The overall mood is simply too similar to much of what come before: it is lighter than Prisoner in Disguise, less hearty than Heart Like a Wheel, but, with few exceptions, Hasten is a reiteration of stasis.
The exceptions include a tingling version of "That'll Be the Day," a pleasant reading of "Give One Heart" (reggae held in check, and including a marvelous guitar break by the omnipresent Andrew Gold), and a triumphant reinvention of Willie Nelson's "Crazy." This last is particularly interesting because initially it strikes one as a schmaltzy night club arrangement, but then the pedal steel snakes in, and the catch in Ronstadt's voice raises the entire concoction to someplace above reproach. It's a chancy song, and therefore atypical and invigorating after a side and a half of Asher's carefully comfortable creations.
Low points are Ronstadt's carbon-copy vocal of Tracy Nelson's on the latter's "Down So Low," and three songs by an apparent Ronstadt discovery, Karla Bonoff. The only thing interesting about Ms. Bonoff is that her name, at a quick glance, looks like an acronym for Boris Karloff.
Warren Zevon's comparatively sophisticated title song is totally lost in the shuffle. And, in support of my "serious" theory, the depth of pretentious bathos is plumbed in a song the singer co-authored with Gold, "Try Me Again," which includes thoughts like "When you say you tried/ And you know you lied/ My hands are tied/ Try me again."
Such passivity is annoying. Loosen up, Ronstadt, and assert yourself.