Top Artists – Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

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  • With STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, this is without a doubt some of the best sound we have ever heard for What’s New
  • So hugely spacious and three-dimensional, yet with a tonally correct and fairly natural sounding Linda, this is the way to hear it
  • What engineer George Massenburg gets right is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio
  • “…the best and most serious attempt to rehabilitate an idea of pop that Beatlemania… undid in the mid-60’s.”

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Linda Ronstadt – For Sentimental Reasons

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  • This outstanding pressing of Ronstadt’s 1986 release boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Linda is fuller, sweeter, breathier, less spitty (some tracks more than others) and just plain less artificial here than on most of the other pressings we played
  • The final installment of the jazz trilogy that Ronstadt recorded with bandleader and arranger Nelson Riddle
  • “… it is in the hushed intensity of Mr. Riddle’s string arrangements for the album’s ballads that one senses a musician reaching deeply into his soul to make eloquent final statements… The arrangements’ emotional gravity reverberates in Miss Ronstadt’s singing…”

With two outstanding sides, this pressing gets two critically important elements of the recording right: the strings in the orchestra, and, for obvious reasons, even more importantly, Linda’s voice. We guarantee that these sides give you a more natural-sounding Linda than you’ve ever heard, or your money back. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Living In The USA

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  • This Shootout Winning copy has Triple Plus (A+++) Demo Disc Linda Ronstadt sound throughout, and some of her biggest hits to boot!
  • Both sides are rich, Tubey Magical and spacious – Linda’s vocals on Alison are breathy and present like nothing else we played
  • Smokey Robinson’s “Ooh Baby Baby” with blistering sax work by David Sanborn has to be the highlight of the album for us

Do you have a copy that’s hard and lean in the midrange, lacking in bass down low and Tubey Magic everywhere else? We do too, more than one in fact.

Ah, but the good copies are rich, smooth, sweet and clear, precisely the kind of sound we’ve come to expect from the team of Val Garay and Peter Asher in the ’70s. The bass is deep and punchy, the keyboards tubey rich, and the whole of the ensemble displays both energy and conviction on this top quality batch of songs.

Check out the best of them, tracks that still get airplay today:

  1. Back in the U.S.A.
  2. Just One Look
  3. Alison
  4. All That You Dream
  5. Oh Baby Baby
  6. Blowing Away
  7. Love Me Tender

That’s a lot of great songs on one album! (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Get Closer

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  • Superb sound on both sides of this Asylum pressing from 1982 with each earning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades, right up there with our Shootout Winner
  • Engineering prowess provided by Val Garay and George Massenburg, which means the sound is full-bodied, dynamic and lively, with plenty of bottom end punch
  • “Linda Ronstadt’s voice has never sounded better than it does on Get Closer… [her] ringing soprano vibrates with clarity and authority on the record’s best songs…” Rolling Stone, 4 Stars

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Linda Ronstadt – Lush Life

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  • An outstanding copy of Ronstadt’s 1984 release with both sides earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides were doing everything right — clean, clear, full-bodied and dynamic with wonderfully breathy vocals and a solid bottom end
  • “What’s New illustrated that Linda Ronstadt was no longer interested in contemporary pop, and since it was a surprise success, there was no reason not to repeat the formula on Lush Life. Working again with Nelson Riddle, Ronstadt runs through several pop standards — ‘When I Fall in Love,’ ‘Sophisticated Lady,’ ‘Falling in Love Again,’ ‘It Never Entered My Mind’…”

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Linda Ronstadt / Heart Like A Wheel – Does Bernie Ever Get Bored?

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Linda Ronstadt

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Years ago we wrote:

One thing we noted with interest while doing this shootout was how compressed the first track is. When the chorus comes in, and Linda seems to be singing louder — should be singing louder, with a substantial coterie of vocalists backing her up — the volume is actually lower. In the verse immediately following you can hear that not only is she singing louder, but the amount of dynamic contrast in her voice is greater. Go figure.

The compression also means that that song will never sound the way we would wish it to. But that doesn’t mean it won’t sound good. It means it will sound good in more of a radio-friendly way. On a good copy, one with relatively little grain and plenty of bass, the music can still be very enjoyable, and that includes a Number One Pop Hit like “You’re No Good.”

Do we still see things this way? Well, yes and no. It’s not exactly that we were wrong, but that better cleaning and better playback (all that revolutions in audio stuff) have now allowed us to hear that some copies are actually much more dynamic on this track than others. Quite dynamic in fact.

Think about it. Bernie Grundman is going to cut this record many, many times, maybe more times than he wants to. Is he always going to apply exactly the same amount of compression to each cutting, or is he going to experiment a bit and see what works better over time? Or maybe he just learned a thing or two as he went along.

Which is pretty much what we do when playing copy after copy. The best pressings show us precisely what it is they are doing when they actually work. We can’t know that in advance; we’re learning on the job so to speak. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt / Don’t Cry Now – What to Listen For

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy.

Her vocals on both sides can be very DYNAMIC, but only the best copies will present them with no hint of STRAIN or GRAIN, two problems that make most pressings positively painful to listen to at the loud volumes we prefer.

Linda really belts it out on this album — face it, it’s what she does best — and only the rarest copies allow you to turn up the volume good and loud and let her do her thing.

Another key to recognizing the best copies is the fact that they tend to be highly resolving. Two places to check:

Note how breathy her voice is in the quiet passages. Only the least smeared, most transparent copies reproduce that breathy quality in her voice

Next check out the tambourine on Silver Threads and Golden Needles. If the sound is delicate, not gritty or transistory, you have yourself a winner in the resolution department.

Side One

The vocals on side one are often recessed and a bit dark on this album.

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Linda’s Problems in the ’70s

The most common problem with these Ronstadt records from the ’70s is grainy, upper-midrangy sound. The smooth copies that still have plenty of presence, life, energy and top end extension are the ones that really get this music sounding RIGHT.

Every copy we played had problems on the last track of side one, Don’t Cry Now. Linda is singing at the top of her lungs practically from beginning to end, so both cutting the record and playing back the record would be difficult. The result: there will be some coarsening of her vocal.

Some copies had the same problem on side two for I Believe in You, but not all.

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Linda Ronstadt – Prisoner In Disguise

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  • Insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this copy of Prisoner, the followup to Linda’s Masterpiece, Heart Like a Wheel
  • This is an amazing recording, but it takes a special copy like this one to reveal all the magic that we know must be on the tape
  • 4 1/2 stars – Love Is a Rose, Tracks of My Tears and Heat Wave were hits, but Linda really pours her heart into Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox
  • Andrew Gold (so critical to the success of HLAW) is still heavily involved, along with Emmylou Harris, James Taylor, Lowell George, David Lindley, JD Souther, and of course Peter Asher

The soundfield has a three-dimensional quality that was nonexistent on some of the other copies we played. Drop the needle on Many Rivers To Cross and check out the amazing sound of the organ coming from the back of the room. Only the highest resolution copies give you that kind of soundstage depth.

The piano sounds natural and weighty. The fiddle on The Sweetest Gift (played by our man David Lindley) is full of rosiny texture.

Emmylou Harris, dueting here with Linda, sings beautifully.

All in all, you will find truly Demonstration Quality Sound on the best copies. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like A Wheel

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  • With two outstanding sides, this vintage Capital pressing was giving us the sound we were looking for on Linda Ronstadt’s Best Album
  • “You’re No Good” was the hit but “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” “Faithless Love” and “The Dark End of the Street” are every bit as good – and that’s just side one!
  • A Must Own Classic, the best album Ms Ronstadt ever made, and a True Country Rock Masterpiece practically without peer and
  • 5 stars: “What really makes HLAW a breakthrough is the inventive arrangements that producer Peter Asher, Ronstadt, and the studio musicians have developed. …[they] help turn Heart Like a Wheel into a veritable catalog of Californian soft rock, and it stands as a landmark of ’70s mainstream pop/rock.”
  • If you’re a Country Rock fan, then Linda’s Masterpiece from 1974 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.

The list is purposely wide-ranging. It includes some famous titles (Tumbleweed Connection, The Yes Album), but for the most part I have gone out of way to choose titles from talented artists that are less well known (Atlantic Crossing, Kiln House, Dad Loves His Work), which simply means that you won’t find Every Picture Tells a Story or Rumours or Sweet Baby James on this list because masterpieces of that caliber should already be in your collection and don’t need me to recommend them.

Which is not to say there aren’t some well known masterpieces on the list, because not every well known record is necessarily well known to audiophiles, and some records are just too good not to put on a list of records we think every audiophile ought to get to know better.

Out of the thousands of records we have auditioned and reviewed, there are a couple of hundred that have stood the test of time for us and we feel are deserving of a listen. Many of these will not be to your taste, but they were to mine.

Heart Like A Wheel

I’ve been playing HLAW since the year it came out, roughly 48 years by my calculation, and I can tell you it is no easy task to find this kind of smooth, sweet, analog sound on the album. Folks, we heard it for ourselves: the Heart Like A Wheel magic is here on practically every song.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing.

What The Best Sides Of Heart Like A Wheel Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1974
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For On Heart Like A Wheel

  • Less grit — Smoother and sweeter sound, something that is not easy to come by on Heart Like A Wheel.
  • A bigger presentation — More size, more space, more room for all the instruments and voices to occupy. The bigger the speakers you have to play this record the better.
  • More bass and tighter bass — This is fundamentally a pure rock record. It needs weight down low to rock the way the engineers wanted it to.
  • Present, breathy vocals — A veiled midrange is the rule, not the exception.
  • Good top-end extension to reproduce the harmonics of the instruments and details of the recording including the studio ambience.
  • Last but not least, balance — All the elements from top to bottom should be heard in harmony with each other. Take our word for it, assuming you haven’t played a pile of these yourself, balance is not that easy to find. Our best copies will have it though, of that there is no doubt.

Not only is it hard to find great copies of this album, it ain’t easy to play ’em either. You’re going to need a hi-res, super low distortion front end with careful adjustment of your arm in every area — VTA, tracking weight, azimuth and anti-skate — in order to play this album properly. If you’ve got the goods, you’re gonna love the way this copy sounds. Play it with a budget cart / table / arm and you’re likely to hear a great deal less magic than we did.

Track Commentary

The Tracklist tab above will take you to a select song breakdown for each side, with plenty of What To Listen For advice. Other records with track breakdowns can be found here.

A Must Own Pop Record

Linda’s Masterpiece, and a recording that should be part of any serious Popular Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

You’re No Good

Right from the git-go, if the opening drum and bass intro on this one doesn’t get your foot tapping, something definitely ain’t right. Check to make sure your stereo is working up to par with a record you know well. If it is, your copy of HLAW belongs on the reject pile along with the other 90% of the copies ever pressed.

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Amazing acoustic guitars! Lots of tubey magic for a mid-’70s pop album. And just listen to the breathy quality of Linda’s voice. She’s swimming in echo, but it’s a good kind of echo. Being able to hear so much of it tells you that your pressing is one of the few with tremendous transparency and high resolution.

Faithless Love

Another superb arrangement with excellent sound. The banjo that opens this track is key — the picking should have a very strong plucky quality, with lovely trailing harmonics, even some fret buzz. So many copies are veiled or blunted sounding; this clearly demonstrates a lack of transient information. The copies without the trailing harmonics lack resolution. Once you hear either of these problems on the banjo, you can be sure to find them on the voices and guitars throughout the side.

That the Cisco pressing doesn’t do a very good job with the banjo should be clear for all to hear. If you want the sound of the real thing only the best Capitol pressings are going to give it to you.

The Dark End of the Street

We love the meaty, dark and distorted guitars at the opening of this one; really sets the tone.

Heart Like a Wheel

Side Two

When Will I Be Loved?

This presumptive Hit Single has lots of multi-tracked instruments crammed into its mix, a mix which is ready for radio and plenty processed and compressed to suit the Top 40 format. What that means for us audiophiles is not that the sound will be bad, rather that it will have a set of sonic characteristics in common with most of the original pressings: a little grit, yes, that is to be expected, but what one hears more often than not is a murky, dark, muddy quality to the midrange.

It’s the rare copy that presents a breathy, present , clear Linda Ronstadt on this track. Which is why it’s a great test track. If this track sounds right you can be pretty sure that everything that follows will too (up to a point naturally).

Willin’
I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)

This track has the lovely and talented Emmylou Harris on harmony vocal. Between her and Linda cthere is a great deal of midrange and upper midrange energy on this track which will tend to strain on most copies.

Is that strain the result of bad mastering? Bad pressing quality? Bad vinyl? Some combination of all three? No one can say, and what difference does it make anyway? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The proof of a good sounding side two is right there on track three. If there’s anything unnatural in the midrange, this song will not be a pleasant listening experience for you, dear reader.

Keep Me from Blowing Away

Linda’s voice here is sweet as honey. On the best copies this one should sound transparent and quite natural. Linda excels at this kind of song, but she stopped doing material like this soon after this album came out. That’s about the time I lost interest in her.

You Can Close Your Eyes

This is one of my all time favorite James Taylor songs. Linda does a lovely version of it here over a superb arrangement with top quality audiophile sound to match. What a great ending for the album, with her old buddies The Eagles backing her up. It takes this brilliant album out on a high note.

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Following the same formula as her early records, Heart Like a Wheel doesn’t appear to be a great breakthrough on the surface. However, Ronstadt comes into her own on this mix of oldies and contemporary classics. Backed by a fleet of Los Angeles musicians, Ronstadt sings with vigor and passion, helping bring the music alive.

But what really makes Heart Like a Wheel a breakthrough is the inventive arrangements that producer Peter Asher, Ronstadt, and the studio musicians have developed. Finding the right note for each song — whether it’s the soulful reworking of “When Will I Be Loved,” the hit “You’re No Good,” or the laid-back folk-rock of “Willing” — the musicians help turn Heart Like a Wheel into a veritable catalog of Californian soft rock, and it stands as a landmark of ’70s mainstream pop/rock.

You’ll Be Crying When You Get This Piece of MoFi Crap on Your Turntable

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and a Half-Speed Mastered Disaster if there ever was one.

You’re looking at one of the worst audiophile disasters in recent memory. Talk about dead as a doornail sound, folks, if you own this pressing, take it from us, you don’t know what you’re missing. Buy the next domestic copy you spot at your local record store for five bucks and find out. No way it can sound as bad as this compressed, lifeless, dull “audiophile” record.
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