Linda Ronstadt is one of the few vocalists who can sing and remain absolutely free from the restraints of genre. Her voice is a dark, liquid velvet and she can effortlessly traverse from pop to country to Americana to a capella without a single misstep. There is a lush beauty in her tone that transcends boundaries and truly makes her a vocalist’s vocalist. And, perhaps nowhere is this quality more evident than on her new collection simply called Duets (available from Rhino Entertainment). The album features 15 tracks with artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Dolly Parton to Don Henley. Duets is a masterpiece showcasing the unparalleled beauty of a one-of-a-kind artist. On April 10, Linda will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where she will be recognized for her role as a pioneering female with a musical legacy that has earned 12 Grammy® Awards, two Academy of Country Music Awards, and one Emmy®.
The new album opens with three powerful duets [“Adieu False Heart,” “I Can’t Get Over You,” and “Walk Away Renee”] with the gifted Ann Savoy. Ann is a musician, an author, a record producer, and a photographer who first met Linda when “a man she was dating flew her to Eunice, Louisiana on his private jet for a boucherie we were having.”
“Linda and I had a very relaxed relationship,” Savoy recalled. “We would sit around singing in her house forever, just trying out songs and harmonizing. Linda helped me with technical things like straightening out the rhythm and phrasing to sing with another person. She taught me about not rushing a vocal, and showed me the importance of taking my time. Our voices blend perfectly together, both being sort of full, round voices. Linda has always liked to sing with people who do roots music — when she was a child, she sang folk music and Mexican music, it was a part of her tradition in life — and we both love songs that tell stories. We would spend our time culling our collections for songs we would do well together.”
“The fact the Linda made a record with me [Adieu False Heart, Vanguard Records] was an honor beyond belief,” expressed Ann. “The album turned out so well and it brought me to huge numbers of people that otherwise never would have heard me. The only thing is, now when I am out doing Cajun shows, everyone wants me to do the material from that CD, so I am trying to figure out a way to perform those songs without Linda. The experience has led to a follow-up with other great women that we are still pulling together — Patty Griffin, Linda Thompson, Alison Krauss, and hopefully Richard and Linda Thompson’s wonderful daughter, Kami Thompson.”
Laurie Lewis delivered one of the most poignant duets on the album, a wonderful, mesmerizing, previously unreleased a cappella track called “Pretty Bird.” Fiddler, composer, producer, and educator, Darol Anger, has called Laurie “one of the greatest Bluegrass artists, woman or man.” And Linda Ronstadt, herself, stated, “I first knew Laurie by her considerable reputation as a fiddle player and a writer of songs. When an opportunity came along to sing with her, I seized it. Getting to know her as a singer and a person has been pure pleasure. Her voice is a rare combination of grit and grace, strength and delicacy. Her stories are always true.”
“I met Linda when we were putting together a trio with Maria Muldaur to perform at Wintergrass, a festival in Tacoma, Washington, in 2005,” Laurie informed. “Teresa Trull and Cris Williamson sang a version of ‘Pretty Bird’ while I was on tour with them in the 1980s, and that song, and the idea of singing it as a duet, just always stuck with me. I sang it for Linda and asked if she would be interested in working it out, and she was. The arrangement is based on Teresa and Cris’ version, but tweaked by me.”
Laurie recounted how the moving recording came into existence: “The first and only time we sang the song live was as an encore at Wintergrass. Todd Phillips, who was producing a Hazel Dickens tribute album for Rounder Records, heard it and asked if we would record it for that project. Linda and I are both fans of Hazel and Alice. I knew this, so I thought the song might have some resonance for Linda. I also knew that Linda had listened to a lot of that raw mountain-style singing. She said that she didn’t think she could sing it very well, but that she would try. Hah! We recorded the song together, into separate mics, just singing it through maybe five times, into two good Neumann mics.”
“While I think that Linda and I achieved a really wonderful blend,” Lewis continued, “I don’t think it was necessarily because our voices are similar. I think that it was mostly because we both know how to project and we have similar ranges. My voice is slightly lower, so when Linda sings above me there is a similar amount of tension in our tones. Linda is a master at matching vowel sounds and fitting her voice to someone else’s. We could sing in full voice and then break to head voice in harmony, which makes for a closer blend. Linda was just so generous with her time and expertise. Through this experience, she ended up singing harmony on two songs each on two of my albums.”
Linda Ronstadt’s Duets is available starting today on Rhino Entertainment.