While film critics lament a lack of strong roles for women and government committees accuse television of stereotyping female characters, music today finds women standing larynx to larynx with their male counterparts. Jazz sitll has Ella, pop still has Streisand, and rock is repeatedly sending a Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon or Carole King rocketing to fame and fortune.
Now all of those women must acknowledge their equal, and in many cases their superior: Linda Ronstadt.
It's been a long time coming for Ronstadt, whose career has often been sidetracked by her personel blunders. But "Simple Dreams" (Asylum 6E-104) presents a mature, fully developed artist. Linda Ronstadt has completely arrived.
The voice has always been there and her interpretations of "Sail Away" and "Desperado" send chills down more than a few spines. Yet Ronstadt's albums have been uneven and her live performances often lacked any energy other than vocal. This summer Ronstadt showed a more relaxed, more active stage presence and "Simple Dreams" is a masterful recording: rich, varied in pace and song selection, and consistently exciting.
Once again, Peter Asher is at the control board but guitar phenom Waddy Wachtel (who, ironically, has toured with Carole King - whose own new effort is titled, confusingly enough, "Simple Things") seems to have put the zip into the record. Wachtel meshes Rick Marotta, Kenny Edwards. Don Grolnick and Dan Dugmore, into an airtight unit which easily shrugs off the loss of Andrew Gold. (Ronstadt has an uncanny knack for making stars out of her backup crew. Her first band was the Eagles).
"It's So Easy" opens the album, and it's so easy to hear the vast improvement over "That'll Be the Day," her last Buddy Holly cover. Eric Kaz's "Sorrow Lives Here" is poignant, and Ronstadt serves notice that no singer - pop, rock, jazz or all of the above - can handle a touch song in quite the same way.
"Blue Bayou" is the clincher. Taking the 1961 Roy Orbison composition into her own context, Ronstadt opens up a whole new facet of her ability. She sings with a clarity softened by a calculated dreamines that evokes a "Spanish Harlem/Under the Boardwalk" Drifters' feel but remains strong enough for impressive phrasing.
The rolling Stones' "Tumbling Dice" gets royal treatment that includes Grolnick's honky-tonk piano and a slide guitar solo (yes, slide guitar) by Wachtel. And, as an added attraction in this version, you can understand all the words.
While Linda Ronstadt ascends to the superstar throne, one of her court is showing signs of making a run for recognition. Karia Bonoff's self-titled first album (Columbia PC 34672), produced by Kenny Edwards, proves that the league of talented women artists is expanding.
Ironically, Bonoff's two strongest compositions are "Someone To Lay Down Beside Me" and "Lose Again," both of which Ronstadt performed stunningly on her "Hasten Down the Wind" album (Asylum 1072). Bonoff's versions are good but can't stand up to the remakes. However, there's plenty left on her album to satisfy and the all-star musicians cranking out the tunes are in brilliant form.
Besides some of ROnstadt's present band (Wachtel, Edwards, Dugmore), there are members of the James Taylor/Jackson Browne troupe (Russ Kunkel, Leland Sklar) and voacl support is provided by Wendy Waldman, J.D.Souther, Andrew Gold, a few Eagles, and Ronstadt herself.
"I Can't Hold On" is a moving country-rocker and Bonoff, though not quite as powerful a belter as Emmylou Harris, sounds as if she's paid some performing dues. "Home" is a solid ballad while "Faces in the Wind" is singularly expressive and impeccably produced. "Isn't It Always Love" shows that Bonoff can be funky (albeit a bit reserved) and "Rose in the Garden" shows she can be gritty in the positive sense.
Bonoff's strength is her writing ability, but unlike Carole Bayer Sager - a songwriter who sings like a songwriter - Bonoff also can perform. Though her style is not fully developed and though she comes up a bit thin in spots, "Karla Bonoff" is a fine album; enough to make her friend Linda Ronstadt proud, if not slightly nervous.