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World Music CD Reviews Greater Latin America

LINDA RONSTADT

By Jeff Tamarkin
Published September 13, 2005

Canciones de mi Padre
Elektra

Jardin Azul/Las Canciones Favorites
Elektra

One wouldn't blame a skeptic for expecting that Linda Ronstadt's mid-'80s forays into traditional Mexican mariachi and ranchera music might be a little bit hokey. Ronstadt had forged a mega-career for herself in the pop world, ably but often unadventurously interpreting the soft-rock compositions of contemporary Southern California singer-songwriters and sanitizing rock/R&B oldies for the masses. Then, after a decade and a half of that, she gave it all up to make three albums of lushly orchestrated traditional pop standards, arranged by Nelson Riddle, who'd worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra. That done, she then looked south and rediscovered her Mexican heritage, deciding it was time to revisit the songs that had thrilled her father and grandfather. Ronstadt released no fewer than three Mexican-themed albums in the late '80s and early '90s: Canciones de mi Padre, Mas Canciones and Frenesi. Surprise: Unexpectedly exhilarating and downright lovely, these latest detours proved Ronstadt wasn?Jt slumming?Ishe showed a command for the form's particular nuances, sang the hell out of the material and, with extensive media coverage, succeeded in bringing traditional Mexican music to many non-Spanish-speaking listeners who'd found it inaccessible before. Now, on a new CD retrospective and a separately released concert DVD, Ronstadt's Mexican period is reexamined thoughtfully. The music remains as charmingly elegant as ever. While another singer might have overdone the schmaltz aspect or poured on the sentimentality till it dripped, Ronstadt is respectful, restrained when the music calls for it and flamboyant when it doesn't. Her oversized voice lends itself perfectly to a style that isn't afraid to be over the top, but this isn't a parody or a taco-bar lounge act--Linda Ronstadt clearly loves this music.The CD, which collects highlights from the three albums (and one earlier Spanish-language track), is a keeper, but the DVD, which presents a three-act live performance, is revelatory. Backed by the legendary Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan orchestra, arranged and conducted by Ruben Fuentes, Ronstadt--decked out in traditional costuming and offering explanatory narratives that place the music into personal and historical context--delivers a stunner.