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Thread: LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE (Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman 2019)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE (Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman 2019)



    Linda is a force of nature

    Not a fan of Linda Ronstadt and this documentary has nothing special about it. But at some point she wins you over. You feel a warm presence. You notice how her voice can fill up a skating rink or an amphitheater. It's almost operatic. It has some of the Latin-tinged purity of Joan Baez, some of the feistiness of Dolly Parton. At one point indeed she joined up with Dolly and Emmy Lou Harris. You learn that she did not write her own songs, but she owned songs, took possession of them.

    The three, Linda, Dolly, and Emmy Lou, will share a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, though the film doesn't mention that. At one point she opened for Neil Young. At another, she toured with Jackson Browne. Then she became simply a huge star on her own. Maybe in the Seventies you didn't like her, but you couldn't avoid her. She was on every night talk show, every magazine cover, every radio jukebox show. every hit parade. She owned pop singing.

    What impressed me was Linda's willingness - if not compulsion - after becoming the biggest woman rock star, on many Rolling Stones covers when RollingStone was important and exciting, on Newsweek, and Time when they were key voices, a superstar whose affair with Jerry Brown was just a passing phase (she never married) - to turn away from that, and sing the lead role in Gilbert and Sulivan's Pirates of Penzance. She played it with a young Kevin Kline, a beautiful, special production that won awards. Then she wanted to sing Nelson Riddle, in the style of Frank Sinatra's Only the Lonely album, and she got Nelson Riddle to do it with her. The result is beautiful. And then, she wanted to sing Mexican traditional songs, because that was her heritage and she'd grown up singing them.

    She grew up in Tucson, near the Mexican border, and her father's family came from there. She did not speak Spanish fluently. But she mastered those Spanish songs she'd sung as a child and made a highly successful Spanish language album. Each time, Gilbert and Sullivan, Nelson Riddle, Mexican traditional songs, Linda hits it out of the park. Penzance is surprisingly romantic. I love the Nelson Riddle songs, so classy. And I'm impressed by the Mexican songs, the technical demands and the fast complicated Spanish. Linda Ronstadt is a force of nature. She's also surprisingly studious and precise.

    Then she made an album with Aaron Neville, which grew out of him asking her to come up on stage in New Orleans and sing with him impromptu. After the recording, he said "I'll see you at the Grammys," and they won two of them. So, another facet of Linda Ronstadt, and again she hit it out of the park, with a little help from the sweet, polished wood voice of Aaron Neville.

    Her father, a beautiful singer of Mexican Spanish songs, died a "beautiful death" at 84, peaceful, reading to the family from the works of Gabriel García Márquez. Then, alas, Linda's voice began to go wrong. She couldn't do the complex things with her voice anymore. She turned out to have Parkinson's disease. She describes how her voice lost "a lot of colors." (Some of this film she narrates. Other parts are famous rivals and colleagues and producers like David Geffen of Asylum Records, and Peter Asher of Apple Records, who came to America after the Beatles breakup and produced Linda's albums.) Her last concert was in November 2009, the Mexican show. She retired in 2011. We see her recently, still singing a Spanish song with her musical family. She lives.

    Linda Ronstadt is an amazing woman and was a wonderful singer. She had keen political intelligence and sturdy independence. She decided never to marry. She had no regrets. This is only an average documentary film, but the material is gold, and the result is an uplifting story and a long enjoyable music video. As a chapter in American music, it's worth watching.

    Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, 95 mins., debuted at Tribeca April 2019 and opens in US theaters September 6.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-06-2019 at 02:53 PM.


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