LINDA RONSTADT, "Feels Like Home" ( Elektra ) **
If Linda Ronstadt hadn't accumulated a full reservoir of integrity during the past decade by following her musical interests far from the pop mainstream, this would smack of career-reviving product.
It might anyway--after all, in the backwash of the Eagles' big-bucks reunion and in the midst of Neil Young's ongoing canonization, here comes Linda with a return to her early country-rock and folk-rock style, complete with Eagles vibes and Young's "After the Gold Rush."
But either her heart isn't in it or a decade of pre-rock standards, operetta, adult-pop and Mexican music has removed her from the essence of that sound. Immediacy and naturalism have been replaced by the theatrical sensibility she refined in her other pursuits.
Working erratically through an odd lot of songs, from Tom Petty's "The Waiting" to sentimental Randy Newman to requisite soul oldie to some ill-fitting roots-folk tunes, Ronstadt over-wails and phrases eccentrically, and occasionally generates a little warmth. Even when her voice is at its technical best, its perfection is distancing. Ronstadt may be back in her old neighborhood, but she doesn't know her way around anymore.
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