The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years
The title of Capitol's 2006 collection The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years is a little misleading: this isn't a mere single-disc overview of hits; this double-disc set is a virtual complete recorded works of Ronstadt's stint at Capitol between 1969-1974, encompassing the entirety of four albums -- her 1969 solo debut, Hand Sown..Home Grown, its 1970 sequel, Silk Purse, 1972's self-titled third album, and its 1974 follow-up, Heart Like a Wheel, which brought her stardom -- plus five bonus tracks, two of them capturing her live at The Troubadour. Apart from Heart Like a Wheel, these LPs for Capitol were not hits, due partially to the fact that Ronstadt was still finding her footing as a record-maker during this time. It wasn't until her eponymous third album that everything began to click, thanks to her finally finding a sympathetic backing band (who would become Eagles not long after this record was cut), and then producer Peter Asher came in for Heart Like a Wheel and helped her find a slick, streamlined variation of her soft country-rock. And while it's true that her first two albums sometimes find her stumbling as she tries to blend country, pop, and folk while working with session musicians (some less-charitable listeners might find such period flair as fuzz-toned steel guitar as a detriment, too, although there's a certain undeniable charm to these dated sounds), they have aged remarkably well, warts and all, because they showcase a singer with excellent taste and restless ambition. Ronstadt was never a songwriter, but she had a terrific ear for good songs, choosing them primarily from the plethora of great singer/songwriters who cluttered the landscape in the late '60s and early '70s -- not just Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, and Randy Newman, but Fred Neil, Mickey Newbury, Paul Siebel, Gene Clark, Bernie Leadon, Livingston Taylor, Eric Andersen, John D. Loudermilk, Wayne Raney, and Lowell George, among others. Her interpretations, while not idiosyncratic, were energetic and impassioned, an appealing blend of laid-back Californian country-rock, folky songs, and pop attitude that was enjoyable even when it wasn't always entirely successful. Yet, in retrospect, especially in the context of this generous collection, the awkwardness of her first two albums no longer seems so pronounced. In fact, Hand Sown...Home Grown and Silk Purse look like flawed minor gems, while Linda Ronstadt and Heart Like a Wheel still stand as high-water marks of '70s Californian soft rock. And this double-disc set, boasting fine remastering and liner notes (which remain good even if there are no details about the bonus tracks and Lowell George is credited as "George Lowell"), is the definitive portrait of Ronstadt at her creative peak, when she was a vital part of Los Angeles' thriving music scene of the early '70s.