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.