There was a time during the ‘70s when Linda Ronstadt was the shit. Reviewers applauded her albums Heart Like a Wheel, Prisoner in Disguise, and Simple Dreams as magnificent country rock because of the way in which she energetically belted out the tunes. One New York Times music writer declared he would chose a Ronstadt record as his desert island disc in Greil Marcus’ popular anthology from the era, Stranded. The former Rolling Stone cover girl was even considered a candidate for First Lady of the land as the girlfriend of California Governor Jerry Brown. Ronstadt’s reputation and career have faded over the years, but her ‘70s output still holds up strongly to critical scrutiny. Joy Lynn White’s latest CD, One More Time, recaptures the classic California country rock style of the ‘70s. White sounds so much like Ronstadt, in the best sense, that one could easily fool Rockwell and any other listeners into believing this was a great “lost” Ronstadt record if one disguised the packaging.
Peter Asher famously produced Ronstadt during her heyday. Kyle Lehning produced White’s new disc. Lehning’s prior work has been with country stars like Randy Travis, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, and other non-L.A. acts. White’s not from the West Coast—she hails from Nashville via Arkansas and Indiana—and she recently recorded this album in Music City, but somehow she manages to sound like she went back in time and to another place to create it. This probably was inadvertent, but I would be mightily surprised if Ronstadt’s music was not a big direct or indirect influence on White. The sonic connections are too strong to be otherwise explained and can’t be accounted for by the production.
White’s cover of Naomi Neville’s “Certain Girl” provides the clearest example of the Ronstadt sound, perhaps because Ronstadt associate Warren Zevon famously recorded this tune as “Certain Boy”. (Ronstadt had a big hit with Zevon’s “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” and also covered his tale of junkie love, “Carmelita”, surreal alienation, “Mohammed’s Radio”, and running away from love, “Hasten Down the Wind”.) White’s version shares much in common with Zevon’s. The narrators of both renditions sound love crazed; obsessed by the objects of their affection. When they sing, “I’d do anything just to be his (her) slave”, you can’t help but wonder how far they would go. Stalking, or even worse does not seem out of the question.
White wrote or co-wrote all of the other tunes on One More Time but one, Phil Lee’s sad ballad “Just Some Girl”. The track “Good Rockin’ Mama” illustrates the lighter side of White’s boastful persona. She might be a girl who “do what I wanna”, but here it’s a promise of pleasure. The song begins with a tasty rockabilly-style electric guitar lick by Duane Jarvis that sexily promises good things to come. Jarvis’ rousing guitar accompaniment throughout the album allows White to growl and snarl, or purr like a kitten, without ever losing that rock feeling. The rest of the band includes Dave Jacques on bass, Paul Griffith on drums, and George Bradfute on electric guitar while White plays acoustic guitar and Lehning sometimes joins in with greasy organ inflections.
Taken as a whole, the 11 cuts present White as tough woman with a tender heart, a sure recipe for the blues. She’s resolutely sings “I’m Free” and lets the declarative title sentence linger in the air for eight seconds. White doesn’t pause to breathe, but a lonesome ache creeps into her voice midway and breaks the word “free” into two syllables. The effect reinforces the message that she’s “free to laugh / free to cry”. Being independent has a double-edge meaning. White’s exhilaration suggests she wouldn’t have it any other way.
During the post-Watergate era in American history, Ronstadt stood out as a strong woman who served as a role model for the slew of solo female country rockers who followed immediately in her wake. In the age of Sugartown and SheDaisy, slick feminine distaff country rock, Ronstadt’s style of music seems archaic. White shows how good the stuff can be. One More Time harkens back to an earlier time when a woman with a loud, clear voice served as the embodiment of feminism because of her natural powers. Right on, sister.