My rating: B+ (Opens Sept. 13 at the Glenwood Arts)

95 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Published September 12, 2019 by Robert W. Butler at Butler’s Cinema Scene

This seems to be the season for music documentaries (“Echo in the Canyon,” “David Crosby: Remember My Name”) but the hands-down winner when it comes to pure musical pleasure is “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice,” which will send you away convinced that its subject was the greatest pop female vocalist of all time.

Ron Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s film is covers Ronstadt’s life in straightforward fashion, beginning with her grandparents (her father’s people hailed from Mexico despite the Germanic-sounding name), her childhood in Tucson with a musical family, her move to LA as an 18-year-old, her brief stint as lead singer with the Stone Ponies…and then 30-some years of recording and performing greatness.

Ronstadt narrates the film — we don’t see her as she appears today until the very end — but the story is told from a variety of perspectives:  her fellow musicians (Jackson Browne, Dolly Parton, Don Henley, Rhy Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris), her producers and managers (David Geffen, Peter Asher), her one-time lover J.D.Souther and journalists who covered her (Cameron Crowe, Robert Hilburn).

This is the story of an immensely talented woman who often doubted her own abilities, yet nevertheless challenged herself to new heights…not only in pop fame but on Broadway (starring in Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance”), as a purveyor of Sintra-ish torch songs (arranged by Nelson Riddle, no less), in a country trio with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, and with traditional Mexican musicians (Ronstadt’s is the best-selling trad Mexican LP of all time).

Along the way she established an image (not that it was in any way calculated) as a playful, sexy, smart woman who went her own way.  She was a matter-of-fact feminist; no stridency, just effectiveness. (One source says that in her prime Rondstadt was “the Queen…like Beyonce is now.”)

She never married but she had a couple of great love affairs, especially the one she shared for several years with California Governor Jerry Brown.

This is all wonderful, but the film’s finest moments feature footage of Ronstadt in performance; it’s virtually a Greatest Hits album with all your faves — “Different Drum,” “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” “Desperado,” “Blue Bayou,” “When Will I Be Loved?”  The list seems endless.

And while she never wrote music, once Ronstadt sang a tune it became hers.

Alas, Ronstadt’s singing days are over. In recent years she has developed Parkinson’s Disease, a neurological condition that leaves her hands — and her  vocal chords — quivering and difficult to control.

Still, we’re left with a lovely coda…Ronstadt and members of her family sitting in her living room singing an old Mexican tune.  Her voice has lost its soul-clanging power, but she can still deliver some pretty solid harmony.

| Robert W. Butler

Read the original review and more reviews at Butler’s Cinema Scene


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Robert W. Butler for 41 years reviewed films for the Kansas City Star. In May 2011 he was downsized.

He couldn’t take the hint.

OKAY, so here’s the deal. I write mostly about movies. One good thing about no longer writing for the paper is that I’m free to ignore the big dumb Hollywood turkeys that don’t interest me. So don’t expect every blessed release to be written about here. Many films aren’t worth the effort. Besides, at my age it’s not the $8. It’s the two hours.

UPDATE: OCTOBER, 2014: Well, here’s an interesting twist. The Star wants me back as a freelance film reviewer!!! Apparently enough time has passed that they cannot be accused of firing me so that they can rehire me at a fraction of my original pay (I gather the federal government frowns upon that practice.) So from now on I will probably be reviewing a movie a week for the newspaper.