By the time Linda Ronstadt was reaching the height of her fame in the mid-70s it was taken as read that the artist wrote their songs. So, it was a topic that interviewers brought up throughout her career. Her response was always something along the lines of “Songwriting wasn’t my gift…. I just didn’t wake up and say, ‘I’ve got to write a song.’ Jackson Browne wakes up and writes a song down on a napkin – that was his gift.” One of the hallmarks of the various musical traditions that get mixed up and called Americana is the singer as an interpreter of songs, as much as a creator. As one of the biggest selling female artists of the last 50 years she deserves her place as one of the key singers of other peoples’ songs.
Ronstadt signed to Asylum Records in 1973 and released ‘Don’t Cry Now’ before the last album on Capitol contract ‘Heart like A Wheel’ was issued. Both albums have a mix of songwriting styles and could almost be seen as two halves of a double album. ‘Don’t Cry Now’ Just has the edge as a classic Americana album by taking previously fairly well know but slightly undistinguished songs and making them great. Her solo debut album ‘Hand Sown … Home Grown’ had included a version of ‘Silver Threads and Golden Needles’, but it was the 1973 version which gave her a hit single. Don Henley credits Ronstadt with making ‘Desperado’ popular, before that he said the song; “didn’t get much love or attention when it was released on [The Eagles’] second album”.
Her romantic interest of the time J.D. Souther wrote three songs for the album ‘I Can Almost See It,’ ‘Don’t Cry Now’ and ‘The Fast One’. The last of these particularly points the way to the soft rock material that Ronstadt would take to the top of the charts a couple of years later/ Rick Roberts’ ‘Colorado’ she would likely have heard on the third Flying Burrito Brothers album. Rolling Stone’s review at the time highlighted her “ability to elevate a good song to exceptional status is her treatment of ‘I Believe in You’”. On ‘After the Goldrush‘, it is hardly one of the highlights. Closing ‘Don’t Cry Now’ it has a sweep and an epic quality lacking in Neil Young’s version. The only slight misstep on the album is Randy Newman’s ‘Sail Away’ which just doesn’t seem to fit somehow.
What makes the difference in most of these songs is Ronstadt’s voice. Her ability to take on so many genres, from Folk to Light Opera, by way of Rock and Mariachi and make each her own, while never sounding like anyone except herself shows her as truly great singer. The players on this album including Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Glenn Frey, Leland Sklar and Larry Carlton are right out of the top drawer of session players. The album also saw the start of her series of albums produced by Peter Asher.
While it made Gold Record status, ‘Don’t Cry Now’ was outsold by ‘Heart Like A Wheel’ a year later. That album however marked a decisive shift towards a softer pop/rock sound with more strings and less “Country”. That, for me, makes ‘Don’t Cry Now’ Linda Ronstadt’s artistic high point as the album where she most successfully mixed her earlier work with the sound that made her a star. Surely though, they could have made a better cover?