LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE – Review by Brandy McDonnell

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Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (“The Celluloid Closet”) feature a starry constellation of celebrities – Dolly Parton, Don Henley, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Cameron Crowe, Ry Cooder, Jackson Browne, Kevin Kline and Aaron Neville – in their documentary “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice.”

True to the title, though, the documentarians devote much of the film to archival footage of Ronstadt singing during her prime. Listening to one of the most successful pop stars of the 1970s blast through many of her hits, including “Different Drum,” “You’re No Good” and “Long Long Time,” with the warmth and might of a sunbeam for 95 minutes proves a beguiling pleasure worth soaking in.

The filmmakers play it a bit too safe and stick close the standard documentary format, chronicling Ronstadt’s upbringing in Tuscon, Arizona, to a family of Mexican heritage and diverse musical tastes, her move to Los Angeles to start the band Stone Poneys with a friend, and Capitol Records’ decision to develop her as a solo artist instead. The trailblazing vocalist became one of the most successful women recording artists in U.S. history, even though, as she puts it, “the rock ‘n’ roll culture seems to be dominated by hostility against women.”

“The Sound of My Voice” uses plenty of performance clips and talking-head interviews to break down Ronstadt’s prodigious gifts as a singer and song interpreter, whose covers of the Everly Brothers’ “When Will I Be Loved,” Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” and the Eagles’ “Desperado” equaled or eclipsed the success of the originals. Her story includes many colorful episodes, including Henley and Glenn Frey forming the Eagles while backing her on tour, her romances with singer-songwriter J.D. Souther and then-California Gov. Jerry Brown, and her choice to befriend fellow female singers of her era, including Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton.

With the latter, Ronstadt formed a country supergroup in the 1980s, earning commercial and critical success with their collaborative album “Trio.” Tired of the loneliness and repetition of playing arenas, “Trio” was one of many musical detours Ronstadt took in the ’80s, finding success at every turn despite protests from her label. She earned a Tony nomination starring opposite Kline in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” teamed with Frank Sinatra’s arranger, Nelson Riddle, to score hit albums of traditional pop standards and paid tribute to her heritage with an album of traditional Mexican ballads that became the top-selling non-English-language album in U.S. music history.

A Spanish-language concert in 2009 was Ronstadt’s last public performance; the film waits until the end to delve into the icon’s struggles with Parkinson’s disease, which stole the power of her voice. In her smart and unsentimental way, the singer notes that having an incurable degenerative disease is not about dying well as much as it is about living well until you die.

In the treasure trove of archival footage – from an appearance on “The Muppet Show” to her early days performing at L.A.’s Troubadour – perhaps no moment shines brighter than a 2019 clip of Ronstadt at home, carefully crooning in Spanish with musical relatives, showing that both her voice and spirit are wounded yet unbroken despite the disease.

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Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell writes features and reviews movies, music, events and the arts for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma's statewide newspaper, and NewsOK.com, the state's largest news Web site. Raised on a farm near Lindsay, Okla., she started her journalism career in seventh grade, when she was elected reporter for her school's 4-H Club. Taking her duties seriously, she began submitting stories to The Lindsay News, and worked for the local weekly through high school. She attended Oklahoma State University, where she worked for The Daily O'Collegian and earned her journalism degree with honors. She worked for three years at small Oklahoma dailies The Edmond Sun and Shawnee News-Star. In 2002, she joined The Oklahoman as a features reporter, writing about movies, the arts, events, families and nonprofits. She moved to The Oklahoman's entertainment desk in 2007. In 2004, she won a prestigious Journalism Fellowship in Child & Family Policy from the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Along with her membership in AWFJ, she also is a founding member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. Brandy writes The Week In Women blog for AWFJ.org.