It can be argued that Linda Ronstadt’s best work was the music she made beginning in 1983 with arranger Nelson Riddle.
The 1970s’ rock princess wrapped her big, soaring voice around a collection of impeccably chosen standards, showcasing her talents in ways that "When Will I Be Loved" and "Tumbling Dice," as good as they were, never could.
Ronstadt, 56, recently revisited the work she did with Riddle during a concert at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.
Opening with "What’s New," she quickly demonstrated the pure tones and vocal power that have been her hallmarks. The last line of the song, "I love you so," crested like a Pacific wave, stayed suspended in the air and then rolled through the room.
Throughout her career, Ronstadt has been a gifted interpreter whether it has been her work as part of a trio with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris or, more recently, singing Mexican folk songs. She referred to her musical evolution, saying that during the current tour she has heard calls for songs "from a different life."
In San Francisco, there were no cries for "Heat Wave" or one of the other hits that made her the first woman to score seven consecutive platinum albums. Perhaps, it was the venue and the full orchestra behind her. It was understood that this night was devoted to the great American songbook, and no one seemed to mind.
Ronstadt covered 15 timeless songs, not counting the encore, including Hoagy Carmichael’s "I Get Along Without You Very Well," Irving Berlin’s "What’ll I Do," and George and Ira Gershwin’s "Someone to Watch Over Me."
Dressed casually in black, the doe-eyed Ronstadt was relaxed and confident. Between songs, she offered tidbits about her life. Saying that her children had a screaming fight before the show, she dedicated Nat King Cole’s "Straighten Up and Fly Right" to them.
The encore included a stirring rendition of "Desperado," perhaps rock’s most tender ballad. Called out to the stage again, Ronstadt said they were out of songs, but would attempt one more. The bass intro was unmistakable. She launched into her hit "Blue Bayou" complete with operatic high notes and a verse in Spanish. It was a nice ending for fans hoping to hear at least a few of Ronstadt’s own standards.
So, is her best work the Riddle collaborations? It was at least one fair evening.