Linda Ronstadt has shared quite a history with Santa Barbara. From the her days with the Stone Poneys to her rock ‘n’ roll exploits to visits with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra or to the Bowl for a revue straight out of the Great American Songbook, the songstress has certainly led a varied musical life. And on Monday night at the Arlington Theatre she expanded her musical exploits further still, as this visit (thanks to some help from Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano) found Ronstadt tending to her Mexican roots.
Having collaborated on both of the singer’s Grammy-winning homages to her heritage (Canciones de Mi Padre and Mas Canciones) the band has also provided the musical backing for Ronstadt’s various traditional live shows. And it seemed fitting that this renowned Los Angeles collective also opened what proved to be a colorful evening of Northern Mexican music.
With the players lined up across the stage, the music that emanated was as colorful and bold as the washes of lights that bathed the night’s performers - and the hooting and hollering that rose from the audience. From songs of heartache and longing to joyful celebrations of everyday life, the collective delivered their message with a musical exuberance that was matched only by their costumes. It was against this brightly flavored backdrop that Ronstadt subsequently emerged.
The presence of the stately vocalist was an intriguing contrast to that of the ensemble that surrounded her. While instruments rose and fell with the tempo of the music and colorful dancers flashed across the stage, Ronstadt (who appeared dressed in all black) remained firmly planted at the microphone, allowing her lush vocals to do the persuading.
But even they seemed to fall a little short of the heights her backing band reached. Don’t get me wrong, Ronstadt is one of the finest and most diverse voices in contemporary music, and she offered the at-capacity audience plenty of insight into why this is so. But when surrounded by the emotional outpouring of the Mariachi’s fervent instrumentation, the vocalist seemed to blend in more than she resonated as a force of her own.
In recounting the inspiration behind specific songs and offering splintered glimpses into her remarkable family heritage, there was no doubting the depths to which the music of Mexico resonated with Ronstadt. And the feverous response the performance generated amongst the majority of the audience affirmed that this tradition is just one more thing that Ronstadt shares with Santa Barbara.