Country-rock is turning out to be a pleasant surprise. At first, it seemed like just another case of the rock genre ransacking the world of indigenous music for gimmickry, but it seems to be a more natural union than most and one that’s capable of supporting a lot of experimentation. There’s been quite a rash of country-rock albums of late, and it’s rare to hear one that is actually irritating, which is more than can be said for white blues. Some are positively brilliant, like Neil Young’s Crazy Horse album, and a few others are merely excellent. Silk Purse is the latter.
Some may see the cover as a trifle pretentious, but it’s just beautiful Linda Ronstadt playing Moonbeam McSwine. The comparison can be carried to the record itself, but there it gets a little more complicated. Some of the material is raw imitation and some is more original, but none is very far from the soul of the singer. It is Linda Ronstadt’s voice that makes this record; she endows the songs with a feeling that she has shown since the first Stone Poneys’ album, and she has developed her Country style considerably since her last album.
When she tries a Brenda Lee-type rocker like “Lovesick Blues,” she handles it pretty well. In fact, I’d say that most people would not be able to tell whether this was a “real” Country singer or a hippie chick singing Country. The only trouble is, in neither case is the song terribly good.
The same is true, only more so, on her Appalachian moan, “Life Is Like A Mountain Railway,” sung with the Beechwood Rangers, whoever they are. It’s very Country but that’s all.
While neither of the above cuts is a drag to listen to, the ones that bring real pleasure are the ones that add rock and soul to Country. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” the old Shirelles hit, sounds here like country Ronettes, but Linda’s tremulous voice gives it even more meaning than it had. It was released as a single, but apparently America wasn’t ready for it.
“Long Long Time” is the best cut on the record, but wasn’t released as a single (funny about record companies). If part of the purpose of country music is to help tears flow from otherwise hard men, then this cut succeeds as country music. It’s a bit self-pitying and almost tearful, itself, but it’s too convincing to be put down. If it isn’t just pretty, it’s beautiful.
Likewise, “He Dark The Sun” and “Nobodys” are heavy, almost devotional songs that in the hands of a less soulful singer wouldn’t make it. Musical director, ex-Pauper Adam Mitchell, has put some ingenious arrangements around those cuts, but the credit must go to Miss Ronstadt.
Actually, one of the nicest cuts, “Louise,” has no arrangement at all, just an acoustic guitar. It sounds almost too lazy to be good, but it wears well — the more I hear it, the better it gets.
In fact, the same goes for the album: it seems as though Linda Ronstadt is really doing the right kind of material. If she gets hold of some super songs and learns how to sort out the dull material, she could do very well.