Tuesday, September 25, 2007

No. 164: Heart Like A Wheel

Band: Linda Ronstadt
Album: Heart Like A Wheel
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: On her last album with Capitol Records, the label employed famed producer Peter Asher to man the controls. The outcome was a fine mix of soulful country and rock love songs filled with Ronstadt's decidedly strong -- yet equally feminine -- vocals.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Ronstadt didn't write any of the songs, if that sort of thing matters to you. There's a certain AAA quality to these songs; She doesn't break any new ground.
Best song: "You're No Good" is a classic.
Worst song: "You Can Close Your Eyes" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It's great. Ronstadt's voice is amazing.

"Heart Like A Wheel" is kind of the anti-"Tapestry." It's full and pretty and strong and awesome, but that all rests in Ronstadt's voice and, to a lesser degree, Asher's arrangements. Instead of the songs being the centerpiece -- Carole King is first a songwriter -- the voice is the centerpiece and Linda Ronstadt has one of the best voices around.

Robert Christgau reviews "Heart Like A Wheel" by saying "she relates to these songs instead of just singing them," which is an apt description. The best singers are able to identify with the music they're singing and Ronstadt fulfills this duty.

Her country roots, not surprisingly, are the ones that show the best on "Heart Like A Wheel." Her version of J.D. Souther's "Faithless Love" is wonderful and her harmonizing with Emmylou Harris on Hank Williams' "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love with You)" runs over the pedal steel perfectly.

Ronstadt also flexes her vocal muscles in other genres, as well. The folk balladry of the title track brings Ronstadt's softer side out in the beginning and gains steam as the song does. Her country-rock version of the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved" is better than the original

Of course, the highlight of the album is Ronstadt's version "You're No Good." A blues rocker, it's easily Ronstadt's most surprising turn as a singer. Her "honey-colored soprano" (thanks, Rolling Stone!) fits the song's grooves about a woman who's been wronged in typical blues tradition. Her wail of "I'm gonna say it again" during the chorus evoke a real angry desperation Ronstadt hadn't shown before.

Allmusic.com calls it a "landmark of '70s mainstream pop/rock" and I'm not sure that's untrue. I tend to dislike most of that type of music (country doesn't do it for me and this nonsense album rock is too boring for my taste) and it is certainly tough for me to reconcile my giant crush on Ronstadt with her association with the Eagles, a band I liken to history's greatest monster. Still, "Heart Like A Wheel" really makes this type of music palpable in an interesting way. It may not be a must-have, but it's a great record.


shaw browne said...

I would rate this album much higher.

Who care what Robert Christagu thinks. He's a phoney that thinks and thought he new it all.

What's this crap adoration for writing your own songs AND having to sing them. It's phoney business that came out in the 1970's. Hell, Joplin and Aretha didn't right there own songs. Many of the great artist that sang the blue note didn't write their own songs. There's also seems to be some racial component to it. IF YOU ARE "WHITE" - YOU MUST WRITE...TO SHOW YOUR INTELLIGENCE, EVOLUTION,EMOTION, SEXUALITY, CREATIVITY. and if your a woman, PLAY THE RED HOT MAMMA ROUTINE, AND ENDORSE THIS ROUTINE THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER.

This album, along with many Ronstadt albums, is awesome and SINGING is the greatest gift to theart, that's the writers intent - don't undervalue its force. Writers know this, Randy Newman, Mercer, Gershwin, Jimmy Webb, Goffin, even Carol King.

So stop with, they have to write their own songs...but because SINGING IS WHERE ITS AT.

R.J. said...

I didn't mean to imply that one has to write their own songs to be great; Though I imagine I believe that if I thought about it. It probably has something to do with the way music has gone in the past 40 years.

Nevertheless, you're right.

Those who've read this blog before know my affinity for covers and my affinity for others playing Dylan songs. I adore the Byrds' treatment of Dylan songs and Hendrix' "All Along The Watchtower" remains one of the best songs ever.