Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice
Other // Unrated // $29.95 // December 10, 2019
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted December 31, 2019
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A very entertaining but surprisingly ordinary documentary, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (2019) works mainly as a highlight reel, showcasing the uniquely and diversely talented singer's performances from the late-1960s through the early 2000s, in myriad and fused musical genres. It provides the kind of career overview that will have you ordering Ronstadt songs you haven't heard in years, and others you might not have been aware existed. Predictably, one of its themes is of a female pop icon leaving her mark in musical genres dominated by men but this, and personal details, are touched but not dwelled upon, and certain aspects of Ronstadt's life go unmentioned. Despite Ronstadt's participation in the show, it feels curiously superficial. Its performance footage is wonderful, but it's not at the level of, say, Who Is Harry Nilsson? (2006), Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008), Paul Williams Still Alive (2011), three music documentaries that particularly impressed this writer.

Born in 1946 of Mexican-German-English ancestry, Ronstadt grew up on a farm in Tucson where music and song was the main form of entertainment, the family listening to the radio and singing and playing instruments among themselves. In the late-1960s she moved to Los Angeles, her powerful voice almost immediately attracting the attention of record companies when she was part of the Stone Poneys, a folk-rock band formed with Bobby Kimmel and Kenny Edwards. Capitol Records wanted her, but only as a solo act they sought to build into a major star. Touring with Neil Young, the Doors, and Jackson Browne as an opening act, Ronstadt held her own, eventually topping charts with Heart Like a Wheel and Living in the USA, but she soon tired of touring and wanted to explore other genres first exposed to her as a girl growing up in Tucson.

She expressed her love of operetta and great talent for it in the Broadway production and movie of The Pirates of Penzance; sang pop and jazz standards in the album What's New, the first of three made in collaboration with legendary arranger Nelson Riddle; joined forces with like-minded performers Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris on several albums; and expressed her love of traditional Mexican music, especially mariachi, on a number of Spanish-language albums beginning with Canciones de Mi Padre (1987).

In a storytelling device that, eventually, becomes comical in its repetitiveness, each step along the way Ronstadt is cautioned against shifting gears so radically, she ignores their advice, and each career move only wins her more acclaim while finding her an even bigger audience.

The elephant in the room is Ronstadt's supranuclear palsy (initially thought to be Parkinson's disease), diagnosed in 2013, which abruptly ended her career and ravaged her beautiful singing voice. As with other aspects of her personal life, her physical decline is acknowledged but not brooded over. A final scene at the end, which I won't describe here, is quite moving (if still not exactly revealing).

The two themes of the picture returned to again and again, she ignoring everyone's advice and succeeding on her own terms, and carving a niche in the male-dominated world of pop-rock isn't very effectively conveyed, mainly because it never digs much beyond superficial generalities.

On the other hand, the performance footage, culled from TV appearances (including a mesmerizing early appearance with Johnny Cash), concert footage and the like and effectively remixed, serves as an outstanding showcase for her talent. Talking heads like Parton, Harris, Browne, Ry Cooder, Cameron Crowe, Bonnie Raitt, occasionally make astute and/or interesting observations, particularly Crowe and Kevin Kline, he discussing her involvement with Penzance.

Video & Audio

From Greenwich Entertainment, the Blu-ray of Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen. The newly-shot material is up to contemporary professional standards, while the archival footage, while variable, appears to have been cleaned-up somewhat and the music remixed (where necessary) to very effective 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo, with optional English SDH subtitles. Region "A" encoded.

Extra Features

Supplements are limited to a trailer and additional interview footage.

Parting Thoughts

Definitely worth seeing for Ronstadt's performance footage, the interviews and for new footage of Ronstadt herself at the end, The Sound of My Voice lacks the depth of the best music documentaries, but her music is more than enough. Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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