With an instrument that was by turns a gale force and feather-light, Linda Ronstadt was able to interpret any kind of song with passion and skill, bringing that inimitable voice to bear on multiple genres, from Mariachi and pop to R&B and the Great American Songbook.
Ronstadt also sang plenty of country music throughout her recording career, both solo and in concert with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. On December 11th, at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, several artists tipped their caps to the country side of Ronstadt’s catalog, including Brandy Clark and revered singer-songwriter J.D. Souther.
The pair teamed up for a folksy run through the aching country ballad “Crazy Arms,” which was Ray Price’s first Number One hit and which Ronstadt covered on her self-titled 1972 album.
The duo were among many to perform at “A Tribute to the Music of Linda Ronstadt,” a benefit for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. (Ronstadt has been robbed of her singing voice by the disease, which has sidelined her from live performance.)
Souther, a frequent collaborator with the Eagles (“New Kid in Town,” “Heartache Tonight”), James Taylor (“Her Town Too”) and hitmaker in his own right (“You’re Only Lonely”), then took to the stage on his own to perform his song “Faithless Love.” Ronstadt recorded the yearning, poetic ballad on her landmark Heart Like a Wheel album in 1974 and Glen Campbell took it to Number 10 on the country charts in 1984.
Clark returned to the stage later in the evening for a stunning group version of “Blue Bayou” that included vocal turns from many of the night’s other guests: Grace Potter, the evening’s co-band leader Sara Watkins, Latin pop Grammy nominee Gaby Moreno, Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan and Ronstadt contemporary and friend Maria Muldaur.
Among the night’s other performers were the previously unannounced Don Henley and Aaron Neville. Henley performed a moving version of the Eagles’ “Desperado,” which he explained didn’t gain any traction until Ronstadt recorded her memorable cover and noted was “the first song I ever wrote with an extraordinary guy named Glenn Frey.” In one of the night’s most poignant interludes, Neville sang a solo rendition of his beloved Ronstadt duet “Don’t Know Much.”