First-ever Linda Ronstadt live album is fantastic

Linda Ronstadt – Live in Hollywood (Rhino)

Finally, evidence that she could bring it in concert

Linda Ronstadt is one of the most important female rock vocalists of all time. Yet, she often gets overlooked, because she abandoned the genre decades ago and never looked back. Scarce video footage and bootleg audio are all that remain as evidence of her onstage brilliance. To remedy this comes Live in Hollywood, the first-ever concert album from Ronstadt in her prime.

Recorded for an HBO Special back in 1980, the album grabs a dozen of the concert’s greatest moments, and the song selection is bulletproof. At the time of the performance, she was riding high off her Platinum-selling Mad Love album, which yielded three Top 40 singles (all of which are here).

Ronstadt had a gift for taking classic songs and giving them a boost. She opens with a rocked-up take on the Hollies’ “I Can’t Let Go,” before giving a grittier, slower performance of Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy.” Things start to heat up with a passionate run through of Doris Troy’s “Just One Look.”

Anyone doubting her abilities should put on this live take of Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou.” The sparse arrangement gives her plenty of room to work, while her vocals are a hybrid of country and soul. She even shifts to Spanish for the final verse.

Another one of Ronstadt’s many gifts was her ability to choose off-the-beaten-path material. She holds her own with Little Feat’s original of “Willing,” while her voice is stunning on JD Souther’s “Faithless Love.” She’s both vulnerable and strong, while Peter Asher sings backup vocals. It is absolutely gorgeous with banjo and pedal steel.

Little Anthony & the Imperials’ “Hurts So Bad” has a lot more muscle than the studio rendition – the drums are louder, Ronstadt sounds more pissed off and the guitar is bordering on flying off the rails. She switches the gender for Warren Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” yet never loses any of the edge. Very few artists could’ve pulled this one off without sounding cartoonish.

Another real surprise is an extended rendition of “You’re No Good.” Keep in mind that, by this point, she had been singing this one for over five years – yet, she’s razor-sharp with the performance, spitting out the lyrics, while the guitar-playing equals her fury. “How Do I Make You,” her attempt at punk, also comes off ferocious. These aren’t watered-down performances for TV or some pretty girl miming the camera – this is pure rock n’ roll.

She does a spine-tingling take on the Eagles’ “Desperado,” listen to where she takes it near the end. It’s fitting, since she helped start that legendary band.

The audio quality is top-notch, giving plenty of room for Ronstadt’s voice to cut through. Producer John Boylan writes the liner notes, and we find out how lucky we are to have this recording at all (the master tapes were feared lost for years).

Live in Hollywood reminds everyone just how great Linda Ronstadt was. –Tony Peters