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Music Review: Linda Ronstadt – Lush Life

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Linda Ronstadt turned 38 in 1984 and was far removed from her folk/rock goddess days. During November she issued Lush Life, which was the second in her trilogy of albums featuring pop and light jazz standards. It would quickly sell over one million copies and earn her a fourteenth platinum record award for sales.

She wisely continued her relationship with arranger/orchestra leader Nelson Riddle whose experience and talent kept her and the project true to the sound and style of the material. For his part, Riddle recruited such musicians as guitarist Bob Mann (who'd go on to play for Rod Stewart in his forays into the same type of material), drummer John Guerin, bassist Bob Magnusson, and pianist Don Grolnick, all of whom were veterans of the big band and lounge scene, making them perfect for this project.

Ronstadt's choice of material was a little more varied than on 1983’s What’s New. It was a combination of slow and up-tempo plus she went a little further afield, throwing in some Duke Ellington and Hoagy Carmichael material for good measure.

The best tracks primarily come from the American jazz songbook. “Skylark,” written by Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, is a difficult song to sing with the subtle tempo changes plus tone variations which are required to pull it off. Yet she renders one of the better vocal performances of her career on the track. The title song is a jazz standard written by Bill Strayhorn in 1930 and has been recorded by such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane, and Billy Eckstine among others. Her version strays a little from the original as the vocal pushes it toward a pop/jazz interpretation that makes it unique. “Sophisticated Lady” is a 1930’s jazz classic by Duke Ellington and her take is both creative and excellent. Songs such as these would enable the album to reach the top ten on the jazz album charts in the United States.

“When I Fall In Love” is a pop standard which has been recorded by hundreds of artists from Doris Day to Celine Dion. Very few, however, can claim to have matched Ronstadt’s emotional rendition. “Can We Still Be Friends” travels in a different direction as it is given a light swing interpretation.

Lush Life finds a mature artist confidently in charge of her career. While this release is far removed from the type of music which made Ronstadt a star, its lasting legacy is an album of style and beauty. 

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  • Lynn Voedisch

    It’s interesting to watch how some of these older rock chanteuses transformed. Some went country and others simply burnt out. I remember when Ronstadt had a brief operatic career. But I paid little attention to this Great American Songbook trilogy, which I’ll have to look into.

    I did, once upon a time, buy Carly Simon’s “Torch,” which also was an attempt to recapture the glamor of old-time jazz standards–the torch song, in particular. At the time I remember liking it. I played it recently and wondered what I was thinking. Her phrasing is awful and her voice isn’t smooth at all.
    Maybe Ronstadt is better at catching that groove.

    Queen Latifiah caught a lot of flack for putting out her own standards in “The Dana Owens Album,” but I thought it took a lot of guts. She’s young, has no need to fall back on anything, and she has pipes.