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Stepping Into Linda's Little World

As only a mother can do, Ronstadt turns rock oldies into love songs on her first children's album.

June 23, 1996|Lynne Heffley | Lynne Heffley is a Times staff writer

"I'll make you happy, baby

Just wait and see"

Parenthood, "that's the real love story," says pop music icon Linda Ronstadt, who has just released her first children's album, "Dedicated to the One I Love."

The album is made up mostly of golden rock oldies that Ronstadt, a single mom with two young children, has transformed with uncloying delicacy into remarkably evocative, tender expressions of parental love.

"Have I ever told you

How good it feels to hold you"

"In this culture we're so stuck in romantic love, sexual love," she said, "but there are all kinds of physical expressions of love, and cuddling babies is one of the great things of all time." The lyrics of her carefully chosen songs "relate to that exactly," she said.

Ronstadt's lifelong musical odyssey has been an unexpected one for a clear-voiced belter who was the epitome of '70s pop rock. It has taken her from her Stone Poneys rock 'n' roll days to comic opera on Broadway (in Gilbert & Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance") to '40s standards, country, New Wave and Mexican canciones.

Still, Ronstadt hadn't planned on a children's album. It began with her desire to explore the possibilities of an obscure 18th century instrument, the glass armonica (think of the sound made by running a finger around the wet rim of a glass, refined to an art). Further inspiration came from Ronstadt's experiences raising her adopted son and daughter, now 2 and 5.

"When I'm far away from you, my baby

I know it's hard for you, my baby"

"It was with my second child that those songs came out," Ronstadt said. While her daughter "only heard Mexican music for the first three years of her life because that's what I was doing then," when her son was a newborn, Ronstadt found herself crooning such oldies as the album's title song, the Beatles' "Good Night" and, with rocking chair rhythm, the ubiquitous 1977 Queen anthem "We Will Rock You," which evokes, in this context, a noisy, muddy, rough-and-tumble little boy.

"Now it's dark and I'm alone but I won't be afraid"

Brian Wilson's "In My Room," although its child's perspective differs from that of the other parent-to-child songs, was included "because I know Brian," Ronstadt said. "He writes a lot from a childlike point of view, and it's no secret that he had great trouble in his early childhood. The idea of him writing about being in his room where he's safe makes me want to cry. There will be a lot of children listening. . . . It's my wish for them to have a safe place to be."

Musically, Ronstadt said, the album is a progression of her experimentation with layered vocals and the glass, or crystal, armonica.

"It's an 18th century instrument that was invented by Benjamin Franklin, a mechanical version of tumblers full of water that you could play with all 10 fingers. It's very flattering with my voice.

"I was using it in a very subtle way on my last two records. With this record I let it speak out in a more pronounced way. In 'Brahms' Lullaby,' it's just glass and harp."

The album was also a welcome opportunity to explore other vocal paths.

"I really wanted to work with these other textures and hadn't had a chance to. I'm a belter, I've worked with a lot of electric instruments, drums, the rhythm section, but I really wanted to use the armonica. It got me into this tiny seductive sound. It's amazing.

"Georgia O'Keeffe . . . painted the big, glorious world inside a tiny forget-me-not. For me, instead of blowing up a tiny sound, it's like you can reduce yourself to that level, go into that little world, and it's an exquisite world, a subtle, graceful musical realm, but it has great power.

"The armonica is like a sound you hear in the attic," she added, "and you've got to find it. You hear it in almost a subliminal way."

"Now it's time to say goodnight

Goodnight, sleep tight"

Although it was the "musical impulse that came first" to create the album, "at the same time," Ronstadt noted, "I had a brand-new baby. . . . When you sing, you kind of sing about what you're doing. I have to sing about what's current in my life, and children tend to take over completely--that's all I was doing."

Ronstadt is passionate about the need for music in children's lives.

"It think it's just essential, it must be there. We tend to condescend to children. You have to start off with the ABCs in reading, but you don't have to start off with 'Oh, go, Spot, go.' Children are capable of absorbing complex stuff from the beginning."

"It's just like heaven

Being here with you"

"I think it's important I made this record in a very intimate singing style," Ronstadt said. "I made it so I could sing it in an intimate voice next to their little ears but still have the harmonies and chords and all the other subtext that happens in the music."

She included lyrics with the album because, she said, it's important that mothers sing to children.

Whom do Ronstadt's children hear sing at home besides their mom? "I play Maria Callas night and day."


"Dedicated to the One I Love," Elektra; CD, $16.98; audiocassette, $10.98. Ronstadt performs, with orchestra, at the Universal Amphitheatre, Aug. 24, 8:15 p.m., (818) 622-4440, (213) 252-TIXS; and the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion, Devore, Aug. 25, 7:30 p.m., (909) 886-8742, (213) 480-3232.

Hear Linda Ronstadt

* To hear excerpts from "Dedicated to the One I Love," call TimesLine at 808-8463 and press *5723.

In 805 area code, call (818) 808-8463.

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