|Pretty Linda Ronstadt|
Let me read a little something to you if I may:
"See the Stone Poneys. See Linda Ronstadt. Linda is pretty. Linda sings. Linda sings like Mary. I like Peter, Paul, and Mary. Do you like Peter, Paul, and Mary? The Stone Poneys like Peter, Paul, and Mary. The Stone Poneys try to sing like Peter, Paul, and Mary. The Stone Poneys are copy-cats. I don't like the Stone Poneys. I don't like copy-cats. Do you like copy-cats? Then you may like the Stone Poneys. Have you bought every album Peter, Paul, and Mary have made? You have? You have a lot of money. Spend your money. Buy tapes of Peter, Paul, and Mary. Forget the Stone Poneys. But see Linda Ronstadt. Linda is very, very pretty."
That was Peter Reilly reviewing the Stone Poneys (Capitol ST 2666) in STEREO REVIEW in May 1967. If it transgresses slightly against the Reviewer's First Commandment-"Thou shalt review the art, not the artist" (the Second Commandment is "Thou shalt not review the audience")it perhaps does so because there was, at the time, very little art to review. But that has all changed now: Dick and Jane are married and living in Phoenix, the Stone Poneys have been forgotten, and the little filly who sang with them has gone on to become a consistent winner in the pop-vocal sweepstakes. She is still pretty, and that prettiness is still noticed, but not as much as her vocal artistry is. She no longer sounds like Mary Travers but like herself, a finished musician who has polished her abundant natural gifts by "tending to business" as much as Elvis ever did.
One characteristic of those gifts is her habit of pouncing on a song with the first lyric line in such a way that your attention is immediately seized. It is, I would judge, an even more effective way of getting attention than (merely!) being pretty: it seems to work even when the song she is attacking is scarcely worth the trouble- and you appreciate the effort all the more. Her latest album, "Simple Dreams," is a case in point. For me, its weakest songs are Warren Zevon's tuneful Carmelita (a very personal topology- Ensenada, Echo Park, Alvarado Street, the Pioneer Chicken stand- make it impossible for anyone but provincial Los Angelenos to relate to), his Poor Poor Pitiful Me (fatally marred by a silly, set-up rhyme-"He was a credit to his gender/ . . . Sort of like a Waring blender"), and Mick Jagger and Keith Richard's mock-macho Tumbling Dice (cleverness for cleverness' sake-"I don't need your jewels in my frown" yes, that's frown). Despite their unpromising first lines ("I hear mariachi static on my radio," "Well, I lay my head on the railroad track," and "People try to rape me," respectively), Ronstadt manages to hold your attention and make you are (a little) how they come out.
What she can do with a good song, however, is just marvelous. If you want to know what happened to rock-and-roll (it's sick and living in London, according to Rolling Stone), Ronstadt tells you, not very subtly, here: they stopped writing songs like Buddy Holly and Norman Petty's It's So Easy (To Fall in Love), a lovable song lovingly performed. The traditional I Never Will Marry is poignantly, tenderly impressive, quite enough, with Dolly Parton (!) contributing folk harmony, to give the McGarrigle sisters a turn. And who else but Linda Ronstadt would be bold enough to close her program with an affectionate reading of that almost forgotten cowboy lament Old Paint? The first lines of these three are "It's so easy to fall in love," "They say that love's a gentle thing," and "I ride an old paint." None of them are what you would call a piece of cake in the attention-grabbing department, but you wouldn't dream of cutting them off once Linda gets those first few notes into your ear.
The album was mixed using a psychoacoustic something called the Aphex Aural Exciter system. I don't know just what it is, or even what it does, but I think you will notice it. -