Seeking folk cures for heartbreak
The quick assumption about this collaboration is that Ronstadt teamed up with Cajun music historian and singer Ann Savoy for an exploration of the music of Southwest Louisiana. But though there are Creole and Cajun touches on this album (in stores today), for the most part the women immerse themselves in the folk music of other regions, from the Kentucky bluegrass of Bill Monroe to the Celtic balladry of Richard Thompson.
The goal, as set out in the Arthur Smith title tune, is the shedding of all artifice, calculation or intellectual distance from the most powerful matters of the heart. Ronstadt is clearly the more accomplished singer, bringing her burnished, high soprano and art-song minded attention to detail into harmony with Savoy’s unadorned alto, which is closer in spirit to the plain-folk origins of this kind of music.
They’ve chosen songs that detail great loves in life, most often the ones that got away, walked away or blew apart. Thompson’s “King of Bohemia” gives the view of a parent powerlessly watching a child become all too aware of the pain-filled ways of the world, and Julie Miller’s “I Can’t Get Over You” rhapsodizes on the ache of loss that will never go away.
Their spare reading of the Left Banke’s 1965 hit “Walk Away Renee” brings the lyric’s ache into full relief, and allows Ronstadt a brief return to the pop-rock milieu from which she emerged and where she spent so many rewarding recording sessions in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s also emblematic of the opportunity the album gives her to work in more intimate surroundings than the big-band, mariachi and other grand-scale projects that have occupied most of her time since the ‘80s.
This is one of those niche records that isn’t going to storm the airwaves anywhere except public radio, but it will slake the thirst of anyone interested in music speaking quietly from, and to, the heart.
Albums are reviewed on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor). Albums are already released unless otherwise noted.
- Randy Lewis