Posts Tagged ‘Willin’’

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

It’s an album so good that I’ve bought it multiple times – first on vinyl, then CD, then via the two-CD The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years, which actually contains her four Capitol albums in full (plus a handful of bonus tracks), then on high-resolution (24/192) and now, for a second time, vinyl – though this last time it was a Christmas gift from my wife, so perhaps I shouldn’t count it.

In any event, it’s Linda’s greatest work.

Even that young (now old) curmudgeon Dave Marsh, in the (blue) Rolling Stone Record Guide, had nice things to say about it – after calling her “at best a competent craftsman, and at worst an empty-headed, soulless dispenser of music as sheer commodity,” that is. (Side note: I recall reading those words – and similar criticisms Marsh leveled against other artists I like[d] – in the early ‘80s and thinking he must have a hearing impairment. Because we certainly weren’t hearing the same thing.) To the point: Of this album, the first Ronstadt LP produced by Peter Asher, Marsh writes that her “voice was finally pitted against fine material and pushed to convey some of the spirit as well as the outline of the songs. ‘You’re No Good’ and ‘When Will I Be Loved’ actually are better than the Betty Everett and Everly Brothers originals, and the title song, written by Anna McGarrigle, represents Ronstadt’s first important discovery of a new writer.”

Now, I happen to like Linda’s earlier efforts. To my ears, they’re solid efforts accented by moments of sheer grace – her rendition of Jackson Browne’s “Rock Me on the Water,” from her eponymous third LP, is the best example. But Heart Like a Wheel is when she found her voice. She may not have written the songs, but she sure sounds – to me, at least – as if she’s lived them. The performances are letter-note perfect, passionate and dramatic, beginning with the album’s opening cut.

Other highlights include “It Doesn’t Matter Any More”…

…“Dark End of the Street”…

…the title cut…

…”When Will I Be Loved”…

…and “Willin’.”

And thus began a streak of LPs that helped define the 1970s, including such gems as Prisoner in Disguise, Hasten Down the Wind, Simple Dreams and Living in the USA. They all followed the pattern Asher and Ronstadt implemented so well on Heart – well-chosen oldies alongside songs from up-and-coming singer-songwriters. Each of those albums is worth picking up. But none sparkle as much as this gem.

Side 1:

  1. You’re No Good
  2. It Doesn’t Matter Any More
  3. Faithless Love
  4. Dark End of the Street
  5. Heart Like a Wheel

Side 2:

  1. When Will I Be Loved
  2. Willin’
  3. I Can’t Help If I’m Still in Love With You
  4. Keep Me From Blowin’ Away
  5. You Can Close Your Eyes

How time flies. That’s a cliche, I know, but it seems just yesterday that Diane and I took our seats in an overstuffed couch positioned in front of the small stage at the Point, a now-defunct music club in Bryn Mawr.

The headliner that night, November 6, 2000: Kasey Chambers, a babyfaced 23-year-old country-folk singer from Australia. (Here’s the City Paper’s preview of the show.) The tickets set us back $12 (for the both of us). We were already fans, and were psyched to see her, though neither of us can now remember how we discovered her music. Was it through XPN? A review in a music magazine? A recommendation from a friend? A chance buy? However we came upon her, this much we do recall: She blew us away. Backed by a crack band that included her dad Bill, she delivered a rollicking set that routinely teetered from hilarious to profound, sometimes in the same song.

Two-and-a-half years later, at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, we saw her again at a highly anticipated (by us) show that I consider my Most Disappointing Concert Ever. She had a bad flu and, after a yeoman’s effort, called it quits after about 40 minutes (maybe less) of cutting short most songs – she’d start one only to realize 30 seconds or a minute in that she couldn’t hit the necessary notes. (It’s not the worst show I’ve witnessed, believe it or not. That “honor” goes to the Singer Who Shall Not Be Named.)

Anyway, she played the TLA in November 2004 – but we weren’t aware. So our last memory of her in a live setting was of that Keswick show; not that we held it against her. Her 2004 Wayward Angel album, to my ears, is an delight; her more-mainstream 2006 album Carnival is a gem; and Rattlin’ Bones, her 2008 release with then-husband Shane Nicholson is home to many neo-country classics, including the title cut. I’d continue down the line and lay praise on the albums that followed – except, somewhere in there, I lost track of her.

It’s easy to do. There’s so much good music, so little time and, in the case of Kasey Chambers, so little American press and radio.

And just as we missed that TLA concert and some of the albums that followed, we may well have missed this show. Natalie Merchant’s tour itinerary had her at Longwood Gardens this same night, July 5th, and I tried to score us tickets in March, but (for reasons too lengthy to go into here) came up empty. You can never truly know what you missed, of course, but as good or great as that show may have been, I’m grateful I missed it.

Quite simply, Kasey Chambers delivered what may well have been – and I don’t say this lightly – my Concert of the Year at the World Cafe Live. It mixed old-school country with rock and blues, humor and pathos, featured her still-crack band (which still includes her dad), and was topped off by her wondrous voice, which bypasses the ears for the heart and soul.

They opened with “Wheelbarrow” from her 2014 Bittersweet album…

…and played songs old and new. One highlight: “A Million Tears,” a song that dates to her classic 2001 Barricades & Brickwalls album.

Another: her cover of Little Feat’s “Willin’,” which builds from an acoustic gem into a full-band opus.

Some of the night’s highlights aren’t (yet) on YouTube – “Oh Grace,” during which Kasey was joined at her microphone by her bandmates, sent shivers down the spine; and “Ain’t No Little Girl,” the second-to-last song of her main set, featured a heart-stopping vocal performance that…wow. Just wow. Here she is at the City Winery in New York a few nights later singing it:

She concluded the main set with “The Captain,” which she wrote in her teens and, she says, is her favorite of all her songs.

The funny (and Dylan-esque) “Talkin’ Baby Blues” followed; and the night finally ended with what may well have been history: three generations of the Chambers clan on stage together for “Barricades & Brickwalls.” (That’s her son Arlo on harmonica.)

For my ears and money, it doesn’t get much better than that voice, its quiver and high notes; those guitars; and those songs, which mix Appalachian soul with a rock ’n’ roll heart. Over the course of the 18-song, 100-minute concert, Kasey Chambers guided us to heaven and hell, and all points in between, and left us wanting more. One can only hope that it’s not another 13 years before she comes around this way again.

The setlist:

IMG_4955“You have an awful lot of Linda Ronstadt on here,” Diane said to me, about my Pono Player, while we were driving the other day.

It’s true. I’m a fan, and have been since buying Mad Love in 1980, when I was 14. That album doesn’t get much respect, these days, and didn’t at the time, either – at least, not in Rolling Stone and the rock press. But I liked it then and like it now, especially the one-two punch of “I Can’t Let Go” and “Hurt So Bad” that closes Side One, plus “How Do I Make You.” That LP led me, at year’s end, to get her Greatest Hits Volume Two collection – I chose it over Volume One simply because it was new; and, too, I loved the cover picture of her. Looks alone didn’t lead me to continue to shell out $5 to $7 per LP, however, which is what I did over the next few years while exploring, and enjoying, her back catalog. That voice was reason enough.LRGH_2

Anyway, at present, I have 11 albums by the raven-haired songstress on my player – second only to Neil Young. Some are high-resolutions, others not, and they include many of her classic ‘70s albums, including Heart Like a Wheel, as well as Mad Love, What’s New, a fairly comprehensive best-of and, now, Sausalito ’73, a set that was broadcast live from the Record Plant in Sausalito, CA, on KSAN-FM.

I’m fairly certain Sausalito is a gray-market release. I.e., not official and only available due to loopholes in the copyright laws. I bought it from Amazon for $12.99 – not a bad price, all things considered. In years past, when similar unofficial live recordings were considered out-and-out bootlegs, it would have set me back $25-30; and, honestly, I would’ve passed on it at that price.  For starters, the sound quality is far from pristine – I’d wager it was mastered from a listener’s home recording. There’s also a fair number of between-song lulls, with Linda and band deciding what next to play. At one point, she learns that “all this senseless mumbling and rehearsing” (her words) is going out live – and not the commercials she’d assumed was filling the break.

IMG_4959The big plus: It’s a time capsule that captures her just prior to her commercial breakthrough. As evidenced by the set, her sound was evolving from amiable country-rock into something a tad starker and more powerful. The new sonic style would flower in full on the following year’s Heart Like a Wheel, of course, and four songs from that LP are featured here, including “You’re No Good” and a smoky “Dark End of the Street.” Her cover of Jackson Browne’s “Rock Me on the Water” (from her 1972 eponymous album) is, as on vinyl, wondrous.

So, for today’s Top 5: Linda Ronstadt. These aren’t necessarily her best songs or performances, but five YouTube clips that I enjoy.

1) “I Never Will Marry” – with Johnny Cash from his TV show, 1969.

2) “When Will I Be Loved” – from a 1975 appearance on The Midnight Special.

3) “Willin’” – 1976 London.

4) “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” – 1977 in Atlanta.

5) “How Do I Make You – 1980.

And… as a bonus, Jackson Browne’s “For a Dancer” – with Emmylou Harris, from their 1999 Western Wall collaboration.