Linda Ronstadt is not a typical recording artist. Thankfully. Even a cursory review of her discography between 1969 and 2006 points to her successful sampling of diverse musical styles: standards with Nelson Riddle, folk, Motown, Mexican rancheras, the “trio” albums with Dolly Parton and Emmylous Harris, jazz, new wave, Broadway, and, most famously, Southern California pop/rock. Never satisfied to merely appropriate current trends, Ronstadt instead chooses to explore music that further shapes and sharpens her exquisite voice. Two years following her fourth standards album, Hummin’ to Myself, Linda Ronstadt joins noted Cajun musician and scholar Ann Savoy on Adieu False Heart, a technically perfect, emotionally wrought, if overly melancholy, album that melds ballads, Cajun music, and flourishes of bluegrass into one delicious gumbo.
Ann Savoy (pronounced “sa-vwah”) is an ideal singing partner for Ronstadt, having written Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People and being of the celebrated Savoy music clan. Ronstadt and Savoy first appeared together on Vanguard Records’ tribute to Cajun music, Evangeline Made, in 2002. That partnership continues here wherein the duo cryptically bills themselves as the “Zozo Sisters”. Savoy’s voice is smokey velvet to Ronstadt’s silky satin and the contrast works to great effect throughout the 16 tracks. When singing in unison, particularly on the title track, “Marie Mouri”, “The One I Love Is Gone”, and “Parlez-Moi D’Amour”, their voices meld into one voice. Ronstadt and Savoy become an instrument, like Joel Savoy’s guitar or Kevin Wimmer’s fiddle, but are careful not to overshadow the players. Likewise, the stringed instruments act as a kind of singing voice on “Plus Tu Tournes”, a lively, spirited tune, which is a welcome reprieve from the pensive and lovelorn landscape that dominates the album.
The cover image of Adieu False Heart depicts a grey, wintery landscape. Trees are bare, their leaves long fallen to the ground and swept away by a chilly wind. And so Linda Ronstadt sings “If memories were like the leaves that fall/the wind would have carried them from my mind” on Julie Miller’s “I Can’t Get Over You”. Like the memories Ms. Miller so poetically envisions, each song on Adieu False Heart represents a fallen leaf swirled around in a maelstrom of emotion. Themes such as deception (the title track), loneliness (“Burns’ Supper”), death (“Marie Mouri”), and despair (“Rattle My Cage”) create a fairly bleak portrait of life on the bayou while stringed instruments amplify the lyrics’ delicate desolation. The haunting sadness of Andrea Zonn’s resophonic viola bookends the album while other string instruments (upright bass, dulcimer, violin, fiddle) embellishing the emotional core of each song. It is not an uplifting listen, per se, but it certainly is an exceptional exercise in reworking and interpreting songs through the lens of Cajun music sensibilities.
Adieu False Heart has no shortage of highlights and the excellent musicianship yields repeated listens. However, “Walk Away Renee” is the one amaranthine track on the album that will only become more beautiful as time passes. Given an acoustic treatment by producer Steve Buckingham, Ronstadt and Savoy’s version stands among the most truthful versions by this oft-covered evergreen. Listen to the Zozo Sisters intone “Just walk away Renee/ You won’t see me follow you back home” and dare not to be moved. Their harmonies are simply mesmerizing.
On the surface, Adieu False Heart may appear to appeal only to fans of Linda Ronstadt, Ann Savoy, or Cajun music but such a conclusion is immaterial when considering the stellar performances by both vocalists and their impressive line-up of musicians. Highly recommended with a box of tissues by your side.