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CD Review: Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, "Western Wall / Tucson Sessions"

Dec 15, 2000
Kimmy Sophia Brown
Over the years Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris have both contributed a great body of work to American music. Linda Ronstadt has covered many genres from country western, rock and roll, old standards with the Nelson Riddle orchestra, and Mexican folk songs. Emmylou Harris's career dates back to the 70's as well. She has recently gone to Ireland and done a lot of sharing with musicians there, investigating the roots of celtic music and how it ties to traditional Appalachian music in this country.

Linda Ronstadt has the more clear, sure and powerful voice of the two.Emmylou Harris emanates a feeling of the southwest in her heartfelt, desert baked, occasionally hoarse voice. The title song, "Western Wall", written by Rosanne Cash, is a plaintive prayer. In it their voices seem born to blend together. Linda Ronstadt belts out a couple of songs in the vocal tradition of her past hits like, "You're No Good." But the best songs on the album are when the two women sing in a harmony that weaves the sum of their voices into more than their parts. They teamed with Dolly Parton in the past, recording two delightful "Trio" albums, featuring extraordinary three part harmony. This effort with just the two women might even be more beautiful.

Each song seems to be as carefully chosen as ripe fruit picked for aloved one. The collection is written with feeling and depth, the arrangements are penetrating and sweet. The only song which I still don't like very much is the first cut, "Loving the Highwayman" which opens with the phrase, "Damned, damned, damned I am, for loving the highwayman." My twelve year old son has twisted that in my mind forever by singing, "Damned, damned, damned I am, I do not like green eggs and ham."

The rest of the CD is a delicious mix. Jackson Browne's, "For aDancer" is a song I always loved since the mid seventies. It's a sensitively written epitaph querying the mystery of the death of a friend. Neil Young backs up with vocals and harmonica.

The greatest cuts are with the French Canadian sister duo of Kate andAnna McGarrigle, who assist with backup. The first, 1917, is a deeply insightful song from the point of view of a French prostitute giving comfort to the doomed soldiers of the trenches of WWI. The lead is sung by Emmylou Harris in her spare, luminous voice. The accordian, adds a French atmosphere, and the voices of the McGarrigle sisters quiver like mystical birds singing the peripheral Latin prayer. They also back up Linda Ronstadt's lead vocal on Leonard Cohen's , "The Sisters of Mercy." Again, the arrangement of harmony and instrumentation is ethereal and sweet. The McGarrigles assist again including co-writing with Emmylou Harris on, "All I left Behind", a longing, sad song marking the end of a relationship.

One of the best songs is a beautiful lullaby by Sinead O'Connor, "Thisis to Mother You." It could be written from one lover to another, one friend to another, but I think it speaks from the heart of God to all of us. I don't know anything about Sinead O'Connor besides her haircut (or lack of one) and her incident a while back with a photograph of the pope. This song was surely written when a heart of grace was upon her. Ms. Ronstadt and Ms. Harris sing it with warmth and intensity.

This is to Mother You
by Sinead O'Connor

This is to motheryou
to comfort you and get you through
through when your nights are lonely
through when your dreams are only blue
this is to mother you.

This is to be withyou
to hold you and to kiss you too
for when you need me I will do
what your own mother didn't do
which is to mother you.

All the pain thatyou have known
all the violence in your soul
all the wrong things you have done
I will take from you when I come

All mistakes madein distress
all your unhappiness
I will take away with my kiss
Yes I will give you tenderness
For child I am so glad I found you
Although my arms have always been around you
Sweet bird although you did not see me
I saw you

and I'm here to motheryou
to comfort you and get you through
through when your nights are lonely
through when your dreams are only blue
this is to mother you.

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.

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