Linda Ronstadt – Hasten Down The Wind (1976)

FrontCover1Hasten Down the Wind is the Grammy Award-winning seventh studio album by singer/songwriter/producer Linda Ronstadt. Released in 1976, it became her third straight million-selling album. Ronstadt was the first female artist in history to accomplish this feat. The album earned her a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Female in 1977, her second of 11 Grammys. It represented a slight departure from 1974’s Heart Like a Wheel and 1975’s Prisoner in Disguise in that she chose to showcase new songwriters over the traditional country rock sound she had been producing up to that point. A more serious and poignant album than its predecessors, it won critical acclaim.

Hasten Down the Wind is the Grammy Award-winning seventh studio album by singer/songwriter/producer Linda Ronstadt. Released in 1976, it became her third straight million-selling album. Ronstadt was the first female artist in history to accomplish this feat. The album earned her a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Female in 1977, her second of 11 Grammys. It represented a slight departure from 1974’s Heart Like a Wheel and 1975’s Prisoner in Disguise in that she chose to showcase new songwriters over the traditional country rock sound she had been producing up to that point. A more serious and poignant album than its predecessors, it won critical acclaim.

The album showcased songs from artists such as Warren Zevon (“Hasten Down the Wind”) and Karla Bonoff (“Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”), both of whom would soon be making a name for themselves in the singer-songwriter world. The album included a cover of a cover: “The Tattler” by Washington Phillips, which Ry Cooder had re-arranged for his 1974 album Paradise and Lunch. A reworking of the late Patsy Cline’s classic “Crazy” was a Top 10 Country hit for Ronstadt in early 1977.

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Her third album to go platinum, Hasten Down the Wind spent several weeks in the top three of the Billboard album charts. It was also the second of four number 1 Country albums for her. (by wikipedia)

This is Linda Ronstadt’s tenth album (including the three made with her first group, the Stone Poneys). While it is certainly not in a league with her masterpiece, Heart like a Wheel (and I’m beginning to believe its perfection occurs but once in an artist’s career), Hasten down the Wind is nonetheless representative of Ronstadt redivivus, of Ronstadt, the sensitive, introspective stirring we have admired all these years.

Aside from the inclusion of two innocuous songs — “Lo Siento Mi Vida” and Karla Bonoff’s “If He’s Ever Near” — the album’s problems are fairly well exemplified by the totally wrongheaded interpretation of the Warren Zevon-penned title song, which delineates the chilling tale of a lover’s indecisiveness. In the original version, stinging, venomous guitar lines plus ethereal guitar solos accentuated Zevon’s weary vocal. Here, strings and Andrew Gold’s impersonal piano accompaniment take the song all the way out of the danger zone, and Ronstadt’s carefully articulated, stodgy vocal belies her misunderstanding. When she is joined on the chorus by Don Henley (of the Eagles) the impact of the song’s touching and mystifying lyric is completely blunted by the beauty of the harmonizing.

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The album’s only other major mistake is John and Johanna Hall’s “Give One Heart,” one of the worst songs — reggae or otherwise — I’ve heard. Orleans couldn’t salvage it, nor can Ronstadt. No amount of sweetening can rescue lyrics as inane as “That’s the paradox of I love you” or “If your baby loves you right/You can have skyrockets any old night.” A rock & roll bridge has been punched up, which only makes things worse by forcing a scream from Ronstadt as she tries to move up the scale. Worse still, one verse of an immaculately beautiful reggae song, “Rivers of Babylon,” is ruined by being used as a prelude to “Give One Heart.”

Otherwise the album is in good shape. And in a few instances it’s as good as anything Ronstadt has done.

I’ve always appreciated Ronstadt’s good-natured approach to her remakes of rock ‘n’ roll oldies. The version of “That’ll Be the Day” included here neither alters my feelings for nor threatens the Buddy Holly original. Her reading could be tougher, but the music behind it — particularly the solo sparring between guitarists Andrew Gold and Waddy Wachtel — has enough bite to overcome the vocal shortcomings.

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Ry Cooder’s “The Tattler” is one of the album’s two gems. Swirling electric piano figures and a barely audible mandolin establish an irresistibly exotic ambiance. Ronstadt’s interpretation is extraordinarily subtle, sly and witty. She sounds at peace with herself as she sings of foolish lovers who don’t take the time to discover love’s true meaning. She doesn’t battle the instruments; she doesn’t strain for high notes. She simply allows the beauty of this well-structured song to speak for itself.

Ultimately, there is the Ronstadt-Gold song, “Try Me Again.” As in “Love Has No Pride” and “Long Long Time,” something precious is at stake here. The song’s theme summons from Ronstadt myriad emotions; midway through the first verse, she is befuddled — not yet wanting to admit what is going on in her life:

Lately I ain’t been feelin’ right
And I don’t know the cure, no
Still I can’t keep from wonderin’
If I still figure in your life

Realization and abject resignation in the second verse turn into frustration by the third (“When you say you tried/And you know you lied/My hands are tied”), which elicits the final, desperate plea of the title.

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Near the end of the song, Gold hammers out angry piano chords beneath Dan Dugmore’s sorrowful steel guitar lines, then comes back with a powerful guitar solo that is the instrumental topping for the quintessential Ronstadt performance.

Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” an inspired choice, follows. After the tumult of “Try Me Again,” “Crazy” is rather a boozy coda; a “what the hell, you gotta give love a try” barroom ballad that is lighthearted and loose enough for Ronstadt to falter on the last line without destroying the mood.

This isn’t Heart like a Wheel. But it is, despite its flaws, a fine album that begs closer inspection than, I fear, many of us are willing to give to Linda Ronstadt’s art. Like the best moments of the preceding nine, though, the best moments of Hasten down the Wind will be with us a long, long time. (by David McGee, Rolling Stone, 1976)

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Personnel:
Michael Botts (drums)
Dan Dugmore (guitar, steel-guitar)
Kenny Edwards (bass, mandolin, background vocals)
Andrew Gold (keyboards, clavinet, guitar, clavichord, background vocals)
Russ Kunkel (drums)
Linda Ronstadt (vocals)
Wendy Waldman (guitar, background vocals)
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Peter Asher (guitar, percussion, background vocals)
David Campbell (viola)
Richard Feves (bass)
Don Henley (drums, vocals)
Dennis Karmazyn (cello)
Clarence McDonald (keyboards)
Paul Polivnick (viola)
Charles Veal (violin)
Ken Yerke (violin, viola)
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vocals/background vocals:
Herb Pedersen – Bill Thedford – Ron Hickland – Gerry Garrett – Sherlie Matthews – Clydie King – Gerald Garrett – Jim Gilstrap – Pat Henderson – Ron Hicklin – Becky Louis – Karla Bonoff

Booklet

Tracklist:
01. Lose Again (Bonoff) 3.37
02. The Tattler (Cooder/Titelman/Phillips) 3:56
03. If He’s Ever Near (Bonoff) 3:15
04. That’ll Be The Day (Allison/Holly/Petty) 2:32
05. Lo Siento Mi Vida (I’m Sorry My Love) (L.Ronstadt/Edwards/G.Ronstadt) 3:54
06. Hasten Down The Wind (Zevon) 2:40
07. Rivers Of Babylon (Dowe/McNaughton) 0:52
08. Give One Heart /John Hall/Johanna Hall) 4:07
09. Try Me Again (L. Ronstadt/Gold) 3:59
10. Crazy (W.Nelson) 3:58
11. Down So Low (T.Nelson) 4:08
12. Someone To Lay Down Beside Me (Bonoff) 3.58

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