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IN BRIEF: A very entertaining documentary that showcases one of America's most legendary musical icon's diverse legacy.
JIM'S REVIEW: It is that voice, that distinctive sound that ranges from vulnerable laments to hard rock belting that made Linda Ronstadt a musical icon. Directed with loving care by filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, this documentary follows this singer's journey from her early days with The Stone Poneys to a solo career which encompassed rock, pop, country, Broadway, American standards, and traditional Mexican music. A rich and varied musical legacy unmatched by anyone else.
Back in the late sixties, while rhythm & blues, folk, pop, and country music openly celebrated the female singers of that era, rock & roll was mostly a man's world. Sure a few powerhouse female vocalists broke through and made their presence known... Janis Joplin, Grace Slick...and a young unassuming talent named Linda Ronstadt. A new documentary, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, is a straight forward biography about this trailblazer who championed women's rights and many liberal causes. One remains in awe of this spirited singer who was more interested in facing her own vocal challenges to excel in her craft than stay the course with a successful formulaic musical career. She was unafraid to try a host of musical genres even when the record producers said no to her requests. The film showcases many of her concerts and musical performances with archival footage that captures her unmistakable artistry and determination.
The filmmakers compile some wonderful musical segments and intersperse them with praise-worthy interviews by friends and colleagues. Providing background information and exposition of Ms. Ronstadt's legendary career are: Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Asher, and Aaron Neville, to name a few. Now that's a cast of characters! Directors Mr. Epstein and Mr. Friedman craft their documentary skillfully mixing the narrative with the song lyrics so seamlessly that the end result never feels like short snippets of a performance. One savors the words and the music throughout this excellent documentary.
The film is highly entertaining with a touch of the bittersweet, as Ms. Ronstadt was forced into an early retirement due to the loss of muscle control from her on-going bout with Parkinson's disease. (There is a touching moment that shows her inner strength and willpower when she and family members sing a song together that is quite moving and brought this reviewer to tears.)
Still, like many biographies, the storytelling is conventionally presented. The beginning of the film uses Ms. Ronstadt's own narration from her 2011 memoir and her line delivery comes off as too businesslike and awkward. She sings much better than she reads. Fortunately, the filmmakers lose that approach very early and focus more on the music and comments from others to tell her backstory, which works beautifully. Another minor flaw is the avoidance of any negative information as the film skims over her diet pill addiction issues and her romantic relationships, strictly staying in line with only her musical accomplishments. (While former lover, J.D. Southern, is interviewed for the film, the absence of former Governor Jerry Brown is quite telling and a real omission to her personal story.)
For a woman who took such bold and great stride to advance her craft, the singer deserves a more fearless and daring treatment of her life story. But that is not the intent of these filmmakers (or perhaps Ms. Ronstadt herself). Instead, they create an affectionate tribute and a long-standing testament to Ms. Ronstadt's varied career choices with a myriad of her achievements (10 Grammy Awards, an Emmy, Tony Award and Golden Globe nominations, etc.). It is a loving valentine, a warts-and-none retelling of her life and her numerous musical highlights. Just being able to see and hear her vocal interpretations to songs such as Blue Bayou or Long, Long Time or Get Closer confirms a remarkable repertoire that will last for decades to come.
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice may be the sweetest sound you'll ever hear. Go see this documentary and be totally captivated by this superstar and her rich musical heritage. To know her is to love her.
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