Linda Ronstadt, with The Richie Furay Band. At the Santa Barbara Bowl, Friday, July 14.
Reviewed by Brett Leigh Dicks
Given that last Friday night was destined to be a celebration of popular music, it seemed only fitting that Richie Furay should open the proceedings. Furay was the founder of Buffalo Springfield, the band that not only launched its founder’s career, but also those of Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and Jim Messina. And it was even more fitting that the enthusiastic Furay should be joined onstage by a couple of Santa Barbara friends, namely his former Buffalo Springfield and Poco cohort Jim Messina along with Messina’s subsequent musical ally, Kenny Loggins. Backed by Furay’s intimate instrumental cast, which included his daughter, Jessie, on backup vocals, the threesome rollicked their way through energized versions of Buffalo Springfield’s “Kind Woman” and Poco’s “You Better Think Twice.”
As Linda Ronstadt guided us through a cross-section of 20th-century contemporary classics, one of popular music’s true chameleons presented us with a measured yet considered interpretation of musical history. From the sublime to the meticulous, Ronstadt delivered some of music’s most alluring standards, mixed with an enticing sprinkling of more contemporary offerings. It takes a special talent to seamlessly blend songs such as Billy Strayhorn’s heart-wrenching “Lush Life” and Warren Zevon’s sardonic “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” into the same evening of music. But through the scrutiny of Ronstadt’s remarkable vocal prowess, the Tucson native and her rotating musical support cast managed more than a little musical merging.
When it comes to her arrangements, Linda Ronstadt is by no means the most audacious conveyer of musical servitude. But this approach afforded the standards an endearing graciousness and the polished musical renderings only served to reaffirm Ronstadt’s vocal dexterity. For the most part, Ronstadt’s unswerving and coherent interpretations shimmered from the stage, as the whimsical beauty of “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” the gorgeous “Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered,” and an enchanting presentation of “Just One Look” effortlessly demonstrated. And while her saunter wasn’t without an occasional stumble — most notably the maudlin and formulaic “Somewhere Out There” from the An American Tail soundtrack — redemption came quickly and decisively via the encore with Roy Orbison’s delightful “Blue Bayou.”