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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Ann Hampton Callaway: The Linda Ronstadt Songbook
Arizona Musicfest
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Once on This Island and Sondheim on Sondheim

Ann Hampton Callaway and Linda Ronstadt
Photo courtesy of Arizona Musicfest
Popular American singer Linda Ronstadt may have been out of the spotlight for a while now, having retired from singing ten years ago due to illness, but she made news in the past year due to receiving a 2019 Kennedy Center Honor and the praise for the documentary based on her memoirs, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice. Last week, cabaret icon Ann Hampton Callaway paid tribute to Ronstadt in a winning concert at Arizona Musicfest entitled The Linda Ronstadt Songbook. The combination of Callaway's beautiful singing voice and personable stage presence with the iconic songs of Ronstadt made the evening into a moving tribute to this pop rock icon.

Over a career that spanned four decades, Ronstadt won acclaim and awards for singing in a vast range of musical genres, including rock, pop, country, opera and mariachi. As Callaway mentioned in the concert, almost all of these styles of music were ones that Ronstadt had heard at a young age. The concert featured many of Ronstadt's biggest pop and rock hits, opening with a song made famous from when she was in The Stone Poneys, "Different Drum," and her first solo hit song, "Long, Long Time." Both songs received a rousing delivery from Callaway, who proved that while she may be best known for singing songs from the American Songbook, jazz, and pop genres, she can also rock out as well.

Ronstadt had some of her bestselling recordings when she covered songs previously made famous from other artists, including Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day" and "It's So Easy," and the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved." Callaway's delivery of each of these well-known songs was dynamic, including a soft and sweet version of the bluesy country hit "Blue Bayou," which Roy Orbison had previously recorded. Other rocking hits included "You're No Good" and "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me," both of which received a hard driving delivery from Callaway.

Callaway said she had been in contact with Ronstadt, whom she met through a mutual friend, about this concert and she provided just enough information about Ronstadt's life in her between-song patter to give novice fans as well as those who are more intimate with Ronstadt's career not only facts about her life but also Ronstadt's personal stories about some of the songs. In the band on guitar was Bob Mann, who had worked with Ronstadt and who spoke briefly about what that experience was like. Throughout the concert, projections of several of Ronstadt's album covers were also used to highlight the material. Callaway said that she feels a kinship with Ronstadt since she moved to her hometown of Tucson two years ago.

According to Callaway, the one song Ronstadt most identifies with is "Heart Like a Wheel," and her performance of that song, which featured Callaway on piano, was very moving. With assistance from her music director Billy Stritch on vocals, Callaway also delivered two of Ronstadt's most popular duets: "Don't Know Much," which she recorded with Aaron Neville; and "Somewhere Out There," from the animated film An American Tail, which she had originally sung with James Ingram. Both songs, while sentimental, received personable and moving performances.

In 1983, Ronstadt recorded an album with conductor Nelson Riddle that featured some of the most well-known songs in the American Songbook. Callaway said that Ronstadt was told by her record company not to record the album. However, the album was successful and she recorded two follow-up albums with Riddle as well. Callaway has a lot of experience singing the types of songs Ronstadt recorded on these three albums, and her stellar performances of "What's New?," "You Took Advantage of Me," and "Someone to Watch Over Me," proved why she is one of the top interpreters of these classic songs.

Others in the concert include "Tracks of My Tears," Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home," and a stirring encore of one of Ronstadt's most beloved songs, "Desperado," which ended the evening on a high. The numerous musical styles were presented expertly by Callaway, who delivered the songs with grit and grace, emotion, power and passion. This was Callaway's second appearance at Arizona Musicfest, having debuted last year with her Barbra Streisand Songbook concert and, based on the near capacity crowds, I'm hopeful Callaway will be back next year as well.

Ann Hampton Callaway: The Linda Ronstadt Songbook was presented at the Arizona Musicfest on March 2, 2020. Information for upcoming Arizona Musicfest concerts can be found at