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Hasten Down The Wind
Linda Ronstadt

Asylum 1072
Released: August 1976
Chart Peak: #3
Weeks Charted: 36
Certified Platinum: 10/28/76

Linda RonstadtWhen I say welcome back, don't think of John Sebastian's awful song, or the equally awful television show it introduces. Think instead of a gifted singer -- perhaps our most gifted -- who has given us (arguably, I admit) some 40 memorable songs but failed, and miserably so, to connect with much passion on her last album, Prisoner in Disguise.

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.

Linda Ronstadt - Hasten Down The Wind
Original album advertising art.
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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.

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.

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 feeling right
And I don't know the cure, no
Still I cant' 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.

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.

- David McGee, Rolling Stone, 10/2/76.

Bonus Reviews!

Hasten Down the Wind is not the easiest Linda Ronstadt album to "get" the first time one hears it, but it may be the classiest and longest-lived one she has done so far. It seems beyond time; it is not a prisoner of the conventions of this or any era, it does not do something new or novel or "completely different" to catch your ear What it does makes it different from most albums is attend lovingly to every last detail in such a smooth, natural-seeming way that the workings of songwriters, singer, band, and producer are thoroughly integrated and become one -- that and, of course, the fact that if features a better singer than most albums are able to. It one aspect of the recording does stand out, it's the growth Linda Ronstadt is showing as a vocalist. Her phrasing is slowly but surely becoming exquisite, and the ornamentation she uses is less and less likely to be overdone -- here it is continually surprising but always appropriate, like a Doc Watson guitar run or a piece of E. B. White prose.

The effect the whole album has is utterly emotional, which is the effect music is supposed to have. The most moving part of all for me is the extraordinary way Ronstadt sings Tracy Nelson's "Down So Low," a primal wail of a blues-like song that is bolted together weirdly -- it modulates, as it is cast here, from the key of A to C to E-flat. It modulates in that pattern; the performers don't have a choice. Usually, of course, they do, and usually they take it up either one step of a fifth. It takes good range and a subtle ear just to get through this one, and Ronstadt does a lot more than just get through it. Se wrings it out. She has, as has become her habit, uncovered a new songwriter the rest of us hadn't heard about yet, Karla Bonoff, who contributed three of the songs. The best of those, "Someone to Lay Down Beside Me," is good enough to do a respectable job of following "Down So Low" in the sequence (the sequencing being one of the little details they handled so well here), and that, for me, speaks well of it. Ronstadt goes up against the memory of Patsy Cline's recording of Willie Nelson's "Crazy," and now I'm afraid the version I'm going to be remembering is Ronstadt's.

She's even done a bit of songwriting herself, with a little help from her friends, turning out "Lo Siento Mi Vida," the prettier one, and "Try Me Again," which is more of an experience because of the inspired way it is performed. What happens is this: the melodic figure constitution what one might call an instrumental brake is played first by strings in which a cello is prominent, and then the thing is taken up by the pedal steel guitar with an off-the-wall, surreal kind of lyricism. That gives way to Andrew Gold's electric guitar, which is also lyrical but sounds like it's been strung with human nerve ganglia. The figure becomes increasingly insistent, desperate to parallel what's happening in the words and the vocal.

At first, I had an advance proof of the album with no jacket credits and I thought the steel player, here anyway, must be Sneaky Pete Kleinow; I knew no other steel player in the world with that kind of taste. Not so; it's the work of Ronstadt's regular road-band steel player (who also works out nicely on regular electric), Dan Dugmore. In a dozen ways not quite so dramatic, the album demonstrates what an excellent band Ronstadt has assembled, as her road band had little outside help throughout. God's work and the way he operates so well with producer Peter Asher have been remarked upon before; we ought also to notice the subtly spectacular bass licks of Kenny Edwards (no small factor in how nicely "Down So Low" turned out), the versatility and purity of Waddy Wachtel's guitar playing. This is not just another band from L.A. These boys don't use electric instruments primarily to make more noise; they play notes and they know how to listen.

My only (small) objection to the program is the inclusion of Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day," as I can't stop listening to the words and wondering what kind of jerk would say that to someone he claimed to be really involved with, but my objection is not as strong now as it was at first; Ronstadt included it, I suspect, in part because she grew up on Holly tunes down there in the Southwest and in part because she wanted to give the band something up-tempo to smoke -- which the band surely does.

It's the kind of album I don't listen to one cut at a time anyway -- it's the kind I listen to a whole lot. The thing has hardly been off the turntable since it got here. It's there now, and I'm anxious to get back to it for what must be the hundredth time in the last few days. That's the kind of judgement about an album I trust most.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 11/76.

That Queen of Lost Ladies whose golden heart is always broken by unfeeling men is back again with another unique delivery of country/pop/rock-oldies laments and defiant good-time pledges. Ronstadt's highly effective stage image of the romantic female loser leads the listener smoothly through a wide variety of music by a staggering variety of songwriters. There's even a lovely Spanish Tex-Mex song, shades of Freddy Fender. Peter Asher's production is again remarkable, particularly in the way it avoids repeating itself. It took Ronstadt a long and determined time to get to the top of the heap, but if she can keep up the quality of albums like this, she'll be on top even longer. Her big but pretty voice is a stunning instrument for expressing feelings, particularly intense feelings that require a slightly understated delivery for maximum effectiveness. Best cuts: "That'll Be The Day," "Lose Again," "Give One Heart," "Try Me Again," "Rivers Of Babylon."

- Billboard, 1976.

A few days after Linda Ronstadt released Hasten Down the Wind, we caught the country singer in concert. At the end of the first song, she asked the audience to bear with her -- she was recovering from a cold and was still hoarse. We should all be so hoarse. During the next few hours, she moved through old favorites and introduced the audience to the songs on her new album. The verdict was unanimous: Ronstadt is stronger and more confident than ever before, and with good reason -- the new material is equal, if not superior, to the best of her standards. Backed by one of the strongest bands in the business, she moves from an infectious reggae tune, "Give One Heart," to a funky Ry Cooder classic, "The Tattler" -- then breaks your heart with "Someone to Lay Down Beside Me," by Karla Bonoff. The nicest surprise of the evening (and of the album) was "Try Me Again," a magnificent song in the tradition of "Love Has No Pride," co-authored by Ronstadt and Andrew Gold. If Linda loses her voice, she can make it as a songwriter.

- Playboy, 12/76.

Again, Linda Ronstadt repeats her slick, Californian pop/country-rock formula on Hasten Down the Wind. When the material is first-rate -- such as "That'll Be the Day" or "Crazy" -- Ronstadt's performances are terrific, but on the sub-par songs -- such as the three Karla Bonoff numbers -- she's dragged down with her material. * * *

- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Hasten Down the Wind completes the 70s trio of Ronstadt/Asher mega-successes and spotlights excellent songwriting by Karla Bonoff and Warren Zevon. * * * *

- Elizabeth Lynch, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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