|her latest... Hasten Down the Wind|
"HASTEN DOWN THE WIND" is not the easiest
Linda Ronstadt album to "get" the first time one hears it,
but it may be the classiest and longest-lived one she has done so far.
It seems beyond time; it is not a prisoner of the conventions of this or any era,
it does not do something new or novel or "completely different" to catch your ear.
What it does that makes it different from most albums is attend lovingly to every last
detail in such a smooth, natural-seeming way that the workings of songwriters, singer, band,
and producer are thoroughly integrated and become one- that and, of course, the fact that
it features a better singer than most albums are able to. If one aspect of the recording
does stand out, it's the growth Linda Ronstadt is showing as a vocalist. Her phrasing is
slowly but surely becoming exquisite, and the ornamentation she uses is less and less
likely to be overdone- here it is continually surprising but always appropriate,
like a Doc Watson guitar run or a piece of E. B. White prose.
The effect the whole album has is utterly emotional, which is the effect music is supposed to have. The most moving part of all for me is the extraordinary way Ronstadt sings Tracy Nelson's Down So Low, a primal wail of a blues-like song that is bolted together weirdly- it modulates, as it is cast here, from the key of A to C to E-flat. It modulates in that pattern; the performers don't have a choice. Usually, of course, they do, and usually they take it up either one step or a fifth. It takes good range and a subtle ear just to get through this one, and Ronstadt does a lot more than just get through it. She wrings it out. She has, as has become her habit, uncovered a new songwriter tbe rest of us hadn't heard about yet, Karla Bonoff, who contributed three of the songs. The best of those, Someone to Lay Down Beside Me, is good enough to do a respectable job of following Down So Low in the sequence (the sequencing being one of the little details they handled so well here), and that, for me, speaks well of it. Ronstadt goes up against the memory of Patsy Cline's recording of Willie Nelson's Crazy, and now I'm afraid the version I'm going to be remembering is Ronstadt's.
She's even done a bit of songwriting herself, with a little help from her friends, turning out Lo Siento Mi Vida, the prettier one, and Try Me Again, which is more of an experience because of the inspired way it is performed. What happens is this: the melodic figure constituting what one might call instrumental break is played first by strings in which a cello is prominent, and then the thing is taken up by the pedal steel guitar with an off-the-wall, surreal kind of lyricism. That gives way to Andrew Gold's electric guitar, which is also lyrical but sounds like it's been strung with human nerve ganglia. The figure becomes increasingly insistent, desperate to parallel what's happening in the words and the vocal.
At first, I had an advance proof of the album with no jacket credits and I thought the steel player, here anyway, must be Sneaky Pete Kleinow; I knew of no other steel player in the world with that kind of taste. Not so; it's the work of Ronstadt's regular road-band steel player (who also works out nicely on regular electric), Dan Dugmore. In a dozen ways not quite so dramatic, the album demonstrates what an excellent band Ronstadt has assembled, as her road band had little outside help throughout. Gold's work and the way he operates so well with producer Peter Asher have been remarked upon before; we ought also to notice the subtly spectacular bass licks of Kenny Edwards, the drumming of Michael Botts (no small factor in how nicely Down So Low turned out), the versatility and purity of Waddy Wachtel's guitar playing. This is not just another band from L.A. These boys don't use electric instruments primarily to make more noise; they play notes and they know how to listen.
My only (small) objection to the program is the inclusion of Buddy Holly's That'll Be the Day, as I can't stop listening to the words and wondering what kind of jerk would say that to someone he claimed to be really involved with, but my objection is not as strong now as it was at first; Ronstadt included it, I suspect, in part because she grew up on Holly tunes down there in the Southwest and in part because she wanted to give the band something up-tempo to smoke- which the band surely does.
It's the kind of album I don't listen to one cut at a time anyway- it's the kind I listen to a whole lot. The thing has hardly been off the turntable since it got here. It's there now, and I'm anxious to get back to it for what must be the hundredth time in the last few days. That's the kind of judgment about an album I trust most. -N. C.
LINDA RONSTADT: Hasten Down the Wind Linda Ronstadt (vocals) Andrew Gold (guitar, piano, synthesizer, percussion) Dan Dugmore (steel guitar, guitar) Michael Botts (drums) Kenny Edwards (bass, mandolin) Waddy Wachtel (guitar) other musicians Lose Again; The Tattler; If He's Ever Near; That'll Be the Day, Lo Siento Mi Vida; Hasten Down the Wind; Rivers of Babylon; Give One Heart; Try Me Again; Crazy, Down So Low; Someone to Lay Down Beside Me. ASYLUM 7E-1072 $6.98 8track 1072 $7.97 cassette 1072 $7.97