Autumn has arrived. The days are warm, but the sun is setting earlier, and as night descends one can actually feel a bit of a chill in the air.
It’s time to think about “Autumn Albums,” those albums that I most closely associate with fall. And just because an album is released during the fall months doesn’t mean that it’s automatically going to land in this category. There has to be something about the music, something about the style; that lends itself to this time of year.
My first choice is Linda Ronstadt’s “Simple Dreams,” released in September 1977.
For a period of about 5 years in the mid-to-late 1970s, Linda Ronstadt was one of the most popular artists on the planet. She didn’t write any of her own songs, but she had a great voice, and the success of her work was inextricably linked with the songs she selected. Her two best albums were “Heart Like A Wheel,” released in 1974, and this one. When pressed, most fans would probably choose the former, but I prefer the latter.
The album starts out on a bright note, with her cover of Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy.” On an earlier album, she’d made the mistake of trying to top Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day,” a task that was doomed to failure from the start. Ronstadt was at her most successful when she would focus on lesser-known, sometimes even obscure songs, and in the Holly catalogue, “It’s So Easy” fits the bill.
From there on, her song selection is almost perfect. Her version of Warren Zevon’s great “Carmelita” almost matches the original, and her take on Zevon’s “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” actually improves on Zevon’s recording. She does a wonderful job on Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou,” a herculean task when one considers the greatness of Orbison’s original vocal.
But the strength of “Simple Dreams” really lies with the album’s lesser known songs. Ronstadt’s performances on Souther’s “Simple Man, Simple Dream,” Eric Kaz’ “Sorrow Lives Here,” and Waddy Wachtel’s “Maybe I’m Right” are all spot on. But it was her take on two traditionals – “I Never Will Marry,” with exquisite backing from Dolly Parton, and “Old Paint,” which lifted the album from good to great. The only misstep was trying to cover the Stones’ “Tumbling Dice.” – which seemed silly then, and just sounds stupid today. Unfortunately, Ronstadt seemed to take that effort as the direction that she should head in the future, and her future rock albums felt contrived and inauthentic.
But on “Simple Dreams,” she was almost perfect. And the tone of the album is perfect for a chilly fall evening.
1. It's So Easy (Buddy Holly, Norman Petty)
2. Carmelita (Warren Zevon)
3. Simple Man, Simple Dream (J.D. Souther)
4. Sorrow Lives Here (Eric Kaz)
5. I Never Will Marry (Traditional)
6. Blue Bayou (Roy Orbison, Joe Melson)
7. Poor Poor Pitiful Me (Warren Zevon)
8. Maybe I'm Right (Waddy Wachtel)
9. Tumbling Dice (Keith Richards, Mick Jagger)
10. Old Paint (Traditional)