This is a distinctive, if not unique, approach to country music as rock. As the jacket admits humorously, the attempt here is not at “purity,” but rather something looser, less self-conscious. The record was made in L.A., and borrows from country pop mainly the idea of “orchestration” — a succession of riffs that try to keep the song “moving” from place to place; the arrangements are loud, but orderly, with drums (sometimes reminiscent of Presley) up front.
Linda Ronstadt was lead singer for the Stone Poneys, a nice group that, however, offered only pale backing for her voice. Lots of girl singers have big voices; hers is remarkable more for its control and subtlety. “Intelligent” is a strange way to describe a voice, but it fits; she can, within a song, change more than its physical structure, can twist simple words to fit delicate emotions.
The music is lush, perhaps country psychedelic; the rougher edges of the latter have been smoothed, sometimes, as on Fred Neill’s “Dolphins,” too smooth. Both senses of “synthetic” are appropriate: note the fiddle riffs on guitar in “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” and the Marlboro commercial sound (via Moog) on “Baby You’ve Been on My Mind.” The temptation to let the vocals do all the work is avoided; the backing is interesting, yet not crowded. There are no musicians listed on the cover, no attempt at proving authenticity, and the music frames a voice with more feeling for country songs than that of Judy Collins or Joan Baez, a voice a bit like Janis Joplin’s, but influenced more by June Carter and Patsy Cline.
She has several different voices, really, and uses her most down-home treatment on four very good cuts. On “We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (And a Lot Less Rock and Roll),” there is the best integration of instruments, particularly in the break. The vocal on this and on “The Only Mama That’ll Walk the Line” hints at humor without falling into self-parody, a temptation for rock singers doing country tunes. She obviously feels the music without entirely believing it; the former is, after all, in this arrangement, a rock song.
“Break My Mind” goes all out, nice and loud but tasteful. The vocal, especially in the refrain, is pure, un-selfconscious — she uses few tricks, employing resonance with restraint. “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” is perfect for this kind of arrangement, and probably could still sell a lot of copies as a singe. For obvious reasons, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” is hard to do, and the band tries a little too hard; it is really a much looser song. But the lead guitar and particularly the harmonica are superb, the latter really getting into the laziness of the song.
Nice, loud “good-time,” country-styled rock. Finger-popping time.