LINDA RONSTADT Heart Like A Wheel (Cisco Music)
Listeners with an aversion to west coasty soft rock should look away now. Linda Ronstadt’s fifth solo album, originally released in 1974, sounds expensive even from just reading the personnel breakdown on the back cover. The roll call includes Andrew Gold, Sneaky Pete, J D Souther, Chris Ethridge, David Lindley, Maria Muldaur, Russ Kunkel, Emmylou Harris and three Eagles; you can tell what this album’s like already, can’t you?
Well, yes and no. All ten tracks are covers, some better suited to the singer than others. As exquisite as her version of “Willin” is, I can’t help thinking that Lowell George’s greasy trucker anthem needs a little more dirt under its fingernails. Similarly, “It Doesn’t Matter Any More” and “When Will I Be Loved” seem like easy listening nostalgia exercises. Nevertheless, “Dark End Of The Street” is given some spine by its ever-so-slightly-distorted electric guitars, and the arrangement of “You’re No Good” has real claws.
However, both sides end with a stunner that overturns any preconceptions you (or, more realistically, I) might have about the artist. The title track, pared back to vocals, piano and strings, is a marvel of restraint, power and songcraft, the sinewy, rasping sound of Lindley’s fiddle being a particular standout. “You Can Close Your Eyes” turns James Taylor’s shopping list of empty Laurel Canyon platitudes into something utterly captivating; haunting and heartfelt, it doesn’t seem to know whether to smile or sob.
Cisco Music don’t make bad records, and this carefully packaged and pressed limited edition reissue maintains their form. If it sounds a little thick in places their reputation suggests it’s a characteristic of the recording itself.