Album Review: Linda Ronstadt, Live in Hollywood

Linda Ronstadt

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.

6 Comments

  1. Thanks for the heads-up. Although I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable about Linda’s music as EN & KJC, I have been a fan of hers since her Stone Pony days.

    I noticed on another review that the list of tracks didn’t include the song “Mad Love”. That’s fine with me since I didn’t care for it so I’m glad LR chose not to include it. I will probably buy the album on I-Tunes.

  2. I don’t know if it has ever been said here about Linda, but one of the biggest (and in my opinion most ticky-tack) criticisms ever made about her throughout her 45-year career is that she is not a “charismatic” live performer. By her own admission, she was never all that comfortable in front of thousands, and has always been very shy onstage, only rarely talking with the audience (until her speaking tours following her Parkinson’s diagnosis). Quite honestly, though, it has never bothered me as a fan; and in case anyone has forgotten, it doesn’t seem to have bothered those women in country music, starting with Trisha Yearwood, who consider Linda their spiritual role model (even though Linda never considered herself a country singer in the strictest Nashville sense of that term).

    Hopefully this album will put permanently to rest the idea that she was only ever a powerful vocalist, and that she also had a superlative way of interpreting and feeling the songs she does, and communicating with audiences like few others before and since.

  3. Sublime live performer. Linda Ronstadt was vocally stunning, no pretentious BS and a rare combination of strength, sorrow and joy. She was surrounded by the best musicians – and they were devoted. She brought us to so much music and championed so many artists. Can’t wait to hear this recording – thanks for the fine review.

  4. @ Bob:

    I think it has a lot to do with Linda being conscious about everything, starting with her voice. She was likely much more sensitive to the change than most of us realized at the time. I saw her live for the last time in L.A. in July 2006, just a few days shy of her 60th birthday, and she sounded her usual great self, at least to my ears. But it is instructive to remember that she may have been keenly aware of the change, even though it took several more years before she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. She once compared it to taking the elevator to the 12th floor, and it stops on its own on the 7th. This is a woman who was extremely hyper-sensitive to the change. As fans, we likely wouldn’t have noticed anyway. For Linda, however, she did.

    In any case, I daresay that not only will it be virtually impossible for any other female singer to have such a musically eclectic career as Linda had, but it will also be all but impossible for anyone in the business now to be in the business even twenty years from now, let alone the fifty-plus that Linda has accumulated.

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