Live in Hollywood
In recent years, the floodgates have opened for live music on CD. Artists of prominence, including Linda Ronstadt, have numerous old live sets now available, most of which are repackaged radio broadcasts of inconsistent quality. They’ve been a fascinating listen, but are often little more than glorified bootlegs.
Live in Hollywood is not one of those releases. It’s an officially sanctioned, painstakingly mastered keepsake from Ronstadt’s Mad Love tour in 1980, which was broadcast on HBO when it was still a brand new cable channel. The big criticism of this particular release will be that it isn’t the full concert, but with tracks handpicked by Ronstadt herself, it benefits from something that is missing from too many recent live releases: meaningful curation.
This is Ronstadt toward the end of her rock years, supporting a new album but also performing tracks that have been honed to perfection from years on the road. The Mad Love and Back in the U.S.A. cuts hem closely to the studio recordings. The thrill of discovery comes from hearing the time-tested material. Sometimes it means a more nuanced and interpretive vocal, like on a particularly mournful “Blue Bayou” and a down and dirtier “Willin'” that better matches the spirit of its lyric. “You’re No Good” is the absolute highlight, thanks to an extended band jam that stretches her signature hit past the six minute mark. Also worthy of note is “Desperado,” which closes out the set with a slow build that brings new intensity to an overly familiar song.
During her heyday, and perhaps even today, the pure power of Ronstadt’s voice has frequently been written off as the ultimate example of vocal strength replacing song interpretation. Hearing her at the peak of her talents in a live setting, that old canard has never seemed more like a false choice. She may be able to blow most singers out of the water, but throughout Live in Hollywood, it’s always in service of the song.
Live in Hollywood is available on Friday, February 1. Review copy provided by Warner Music Group.