Linda Ronstadt is one of those talents who can’t be categorized and who has followed her own muse, wherever it would lead her. Even of late, she simply said what she believed during a nightclub performance at The Aladdin in Las Vegas, where her support of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11
led to the exodus and vandalism of patrons. In musical terms, her independence has meant her moving on from being one of the top-selling pop vocalists of the 1970’s and 1980’s to country/western, light opera with The Pirates of Penzance
and singing from the Great American Songbook with arrangements by Nelson Riddle at a time when no other pop singers were doing that. Now, 20 years later, Ronstadt has released her follow-up to What’s New, Lush Life
and For Sentimental Reasons
with Hummin’ To Myself.
When she was asked on CBS Sunday Morning
which of the songs on the new CD was her favorite, she quickly replied, "Never Will I Marry," while her two adopted children, Carlos and Mary, played in the garden of her Tucson home. Still, at the age of 58, Ronstadt possesses the independence and financial security (after selling 60 million albums during her career) to live life, and to pursue her career, on her own terms.
The consistent element of Ronstadt’s music, though, has been her voice, strong and adaptable to numerous genres and yet just as identifiable when she sings "Blue Bayou" or "When Will I Be Loved?" as when she sings "Siempre Hace Frio" from Mas Canciones,
her album of Mexican and Spanish songs.
Instead of being backed up by the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, she sings on Hummin’ to Myself
before smaller groups with arrangements by Alan Broadbent, arranger and accompanist for singers from Irene Kral to Tierney Sutton. And the musicians who back her include top-notch talent like Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride, David "Fathead" Newman and Bob Sheppard. True to her intentions on the earlier songbook albums, Ronstadt delves into the classic songs with warmth and emotion and makes them her own.
Interestingly, it appears that Ronstadt owes some debt to Nancy Wilson, an influence not previously evident, when she sings "Never Will I Marry," with an arrangement uncannily similar to that on Wilson’s classic album, Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley.
Even the length of Ronstadt’s version is just seven seconds longer than Wilson’s. Furthermore, Ronstadt’s singing of "Miss Otis Regrets" recalls Wilson’s as well, which she pretty much made her own on Hello Young Lovers
backed by George Shearing’s arrangements . Ronstadt’s rendition, though, includes Roberta Cooper’s cello to add a sense of mournfulness to the ironic lover’s-spat song.
The rest of Ronstadt’s album, though, is purely hers as she wrings the last ounce of meaning out of songs like "I Fall in Love Too Easily," the length of the notes she holds adding dynamics even above the spareness of McBride’s framing of rhythm on bass. The sense of drama that she injected into her stage productions comes in handy on songs like "Get Out of Town," which starts with a sweet verse over Warren Bernhardt’s piano accompaniment before the song breaks into a double-time chorus with the light support of the horns. The same is true of "Hummin’ to Myself," which includes a Tin Pan Alley type of arrangement with Dan Block and clarinet and Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet. The value of Broadbent’s arrangements is that even though he highlights Ronstadt’s distinctive vocal talents, he allows space for the instrumentalists to shine as well, such as Sheppard’s wailing, iridescent solo on "Day Dream."
Unlike the albums with Riddle, which became repetitious and perhaps led Ronstadt to seek different means of vocal expression yet again (specifically, "Canciones de Mi Padre," an album of Mexican songs she remembered from her childhood), the malleable format of Hummin’ to Myself
provides the opportunity for greater variation as Ronstadt explores standard songs from different perspectives.