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'The Sound Of My Voice' Revisits Linda Ronstadt's Love Of Song

In the 1970s, few female artists could draw a crowd—or the respect of fellow performers—like Linda Ronstadt.

“I couldn’t sing it like that,” songwriter Karla Bonoff explains in the terrific documentary “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice,” new this week on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber home video. Bonoff wrote three of the songs on one of Ronstadt’s biggest albums, “Hasten Down the Wind,” including “Lose Again,” which Ronstadt turned from a gentle lament to a soaring power ballad.

“Linda has the ability to hear a song and claim it,” says Dolly Parton in the film. “If you love [a song] like that, you get inside it. You become it.”

As is illustrated in the film, Ronstadt absorbed everything around her and made it her own, whether that was the country music her sister loved, the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas that enchanted her mother, or the folk songs and mariachi melodies her father, Gilbert Ronstadt, would sing at home. Peter Asher, who produced several of Ronstadt’s breakthrough albums, points out that if she wasn’t always confident in her own (from everyone else's perspective, spectacular) voice, she was confident in her artistic choices, even when her record label or other naysayers thought those choices to be career suicide. Ronstadt simply excelled, drawing on those early influences to share them with the world in her own way.

Tragically, the same control she strove for in her artistic career couldn't last with her health, and Ronstadt retired from the concert stage in 2009 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. In newly shot footage late in the film, Ronstadt actually harmonizes with her nephew and brother in the living room as they sing a traditional Mexican folk song. Knowing how much of a struggle it is, the moment brings a tear to one's eye.

“Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” is a traditional music documentary, following the singer's career chronologically. It breaks no stylistic ground in its execution, but it is buoyed by generous helpings of Ronstadt's best performances, which the filmmakers thankfully allow to play just a little bit longer than is normal for rock docs. There are also warm remembrances from family, friends, and colleagues like Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Peter Asher, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, and guitarist Waddy Wachtel. And then there’s Ronstadt herself, chiming in now and again to narrate her own life story through a contemporary interview and through archive interview footage that fills in the gaps as Ronstadt opines on the perils of fame, the difficulty of being a woman in a male dominated business, and her love of song. In the end, her powerful voice remains, and will remind you how great she was and still is.

On the Blu-ray:

The new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber includes the film itself, plus three short interview excerpts from the cutting room floor, with Karla Bonoff, Waddy Wachtel, and Peter Asher.