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A Treat From Ronstadt : LINDA RONSTADT (FEATURING AARON NEVILLE) JOE ELY "Cry Like a Rainstorm--Howl Like the Wind." Elektra ***: Albums are rated on a scale of one (poor) to five (a classic) stars.

October 01, 1989|CHRIS WILLMAN

After five "high-concept" albums in a row (three torch-song collections, a Mexican heritage tribute and the traditionalist country of "Trio"), word was Ronstadt would finally be returning to the mainstream pop-rock fold this time. As it turns out, this is still a far "Cry" from anything she's done before; the material recalls her middle-of-the-rock-road '70s work, but the approach to the material is as highly conceptualized as on the last few albums.

Be warned that said concept defies easy encapsulation: The songs are mostly contemporary ballads written by tunesmiths like Jimmy Webb, drenched in the kind of swirling, overbearing orchestral arrangements that might have been on a John Davidson album in 1968. So unhip it's hip, right? But then figure in a slight R&B leaning, and the presence of Aaron Neville--one of the pop world's great, angelic voices--as duet partner on a third of the 12 cuts. It's easy listening-- very easy listening--with a little bit o' soul, and it sure is purty.

With two such gorgeous voices blending, pretty goes a long way, if not quite far enough. If Ronstadt's feeling sometimes seems overwhelmed by her new 'n' improved technique, her restraint certainly beats the way a Streisand might emotionally maul these songs. The biggest quibble here: the remarkably timid, uneven choice of songs and songwriters. This isn't so much like the title storm as just a nice, long, languorous bubble bath--a mild treat most of us haven't indulged in lately.

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