Pop Reviews : A Distant Ronstadt Has Sparkling Vocals

Linda Ronstadt has donned and discarded a closetful of musical hats--comic opera, musical theater, folk-rock, New Wave, retro-rock, '40s standards--but none has fit her so well as the sombrero she adopted with her 1987 "Canciones de mi Padre" album of mariachi music and other traditional Mexican styles. While her powerful voice might not have negotiated the subtleties of Nelson Riddle's arrangements during her torch-singer phase, it is perfectly suited to the drama and emotion of the Spanish-language music.

At Saturday's "Fiesta Mexicana" at the Pacific Amphitheatre, Ronstadt's songs were delivered in five segments, worked between equally sterling performances by Los Campaneros de Nati Cano (who also backed Ronstadt), Los Tres Reyes and traditional dancers.

Aside from a sometimes muddled enunciation that revealed that Spanish isn't her first language, her vocals were sparkling, full of growl and fire on "Cancion Mexicana" and the show-closing belter "La Charreada," and torn in broken sobs on "Gritenme Piedras del Campo," prompting band members behind her to playfully shout "Don't suffer so much!"

With several new songs appearing in the set, it might appear that Ronstadt is planning a second mariachi album. But her performance seemed detached at times, as if she's already thinking of new genres to assay. She scarcely spoke a word to the audience, and her singing didn't entirely bridge that communication gap. As flawless as the performance was, it had a distant quality--it was more like watching a film than attending a live show. Ronstadt and company will also be at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert on Tuesday and at the Universal Amphitheatre Thursday through Saturday.

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