* * * LINDA RONSTADT. "Canciones De Mi Padre" ("Songs From My Father"). Elektra.
No, Ronstadt hasn't strayed from rock and country again with her latest album. She's just returned to the roots many sensed when they heard her sing the Spanish-lyric version of "Blue Bayou" 11 years ago.
The album is intended as an act of memory, a recovery of the Mexican music she learned from her father in her native Tucson. Most of the time the strategy works delightfully well. Her renditions of traditional rancheras , "Malaguena"-like huapangos, a corrido and old-timey, turn-of-the-century ballads convey the sense of a music purified by time, migration and memory. It's as if the stagnating decadence that characterizes too much of present-day Mexican pop music had momentarily vanished.
In its place, especially with "Y Andale," a deliciously lusty drinking song, is the kind of purity of spirit you get from watching the classic '40s movies of screen idol and singer Pedro Infante. But you needn't learn Spanish to enjoy the album. A lot of Mexican music, particularly its earthy ranchera and norteno ballads , already shares the spirit and musical influences of U.S. country music.
The arrangements of Ruben Fuentes are often innovative and the accompaniment of Mexico's Mariachi Vargas Tecalitlan and Los Angeles' Mariachi Los Camperos and El Mariachi Los Galleros--among the world's best mariachis--is flawless.
Ronstadt's powerful voice also is well-suited to the music, which requires brazen directness and lilting sentiment. But her words tend to drag behind the rapid 6/8 tempo of the son "La Charreada" and her falsettos in the huapango "La Cigarra" are sung too operatically.
"Canciones De Mi Padre," however, also contains some gems. Ronstadt's duet with Daniel Valdez (brother of "La Bamba" director Luis Valdez) in "El Sol Que Tu Eres," a plowman's haunting lament to the sun, is simplemente gorgeous.