Directed by: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Starring: Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Ry Cooder, Sheryl Crow, Cameron Crowe, David Geffen, Don Henley, Dolly Parton, Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt, JD Souther
The beauty in our shared human collective is that we are each of us, unique. Our talents are what makes us unique, and ultimately brings us together. Much like the opening frames of “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice,” Academy Award-winning co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman never dwell on the Linda Ronstadt of today. She does give a voice to her own story to be sure.
The co-directors instead focus on her roots, specifically touching on her upbringing in Tucson in the late 40’s and 50’s, her original influences were her parents who both listened to a variety of music. Linda had a voice, but she didn’t have the right back-up, which led her to forming a trio with her siblings, The Stone Poneys. Epstein and Friedman fold in interviews with her siblings to give background, and there was never a moment where you weren’t interested in what they had to say.
Ronstadt’s move to Los Angeles, which is where her big breakout came was full of a lot of musical acts that I was familiar with. What surprised me the most though was how Don Henley’s association with Ronstadt led to the formation of the Eagles, but Epstein and Friedman connected so many dots between acts, it was quite incredible.
Once in L.A., a performance of “Different Drum” by The Stone Poneys at the Troubadour is what caught Capitol Records’ attention. While they recorded the trio, they found that the musical background, which was folksy, didn’t quite work for them, so they re-recorded it with an orchestra, much to Ronstadt’s chagrin. She was initially resistant, but with the power of her voice and the orchestra, the song rose to a completely different plane.
The documentary follows her career growth from that first record, with recordings of her concert footage, which demonstrated her voice, which was fully developed by the time she started touring, which she wasn’t necessarily happy with doing, but she loved to sing. I got the impression from the film that she was unnerved with how powerful her own voice was. As it is repeated in the film, she was confident in her ideas, but not in her abilities.
Thank goodness for solid management and peers to keep her moving forward.
Ronstadt immediately found success, but in the forward progression of her career, she also had to overcome the male dominance, where band members would be used to being a part of a group of guys, Ronstadt found that she had to assert herself more directly. The film uses some of her romantic interests as a way of moving her progress forward, a key relationship being Jerry Brown, the governor of California. The two met at Lucy’s, a famous Hollywood restaurant who catered to many occupations. and though the relationship was short lived, you could tell that they were a dynamic pair. Epstein and Friedman highlight just how audacious Ronstadt was with her views on the world during her time with Brown, a lighter part of her career.
Ronstadt’s career spanned multiple genres of music, not just rock, but country and pop as well with at least one of her songs making the top of three different charts simultaneously.
The latter half of the film sees Ronstadt branching out into Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penance” with Kevin Kline, who was as surprised that Ronstadt was willing to take on such a piece, and was equally as impressed with her powerful voice; it was a natural fit. As her career began winding down, the documentary segues into taking her Mexican heritage, showing an even greater range within her voice.
We’re reminded of her current condition, having last performed in 2009 and retired in 2012 following her Parkinson’s diagnosis, which the documentary notes runs in her family. The disease robbed her of her talent, but her presence in the documentary shows just how strong of a presence Linda Ronstadt is.
“Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” is as much about the singer’s success and the influence she has had on so many of her fellow artists. As each song came up, I felt a chill, full of fond memories of my own, which will truly bring a smile to your face, reminding us of the power of her voice.
3.75 out of 4