As close friend Bonnie Raitt comments in Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s new documentary The Sound of My Voice, “[Linda] was like what Beyoncé is now.”
From 1974 to 1978, there was no bigger female solo music artist in the United States than Linda Ronstadt. Whether it was her outstanding singing voice, her stellar good looks, adorable personality or carefree, hippie aesthetic, everyone wanted a piece of her. Now, with the help of Epstein and Friedman, the singer herself (and her friends) get to tell her side of the success story.
The Sound of My Voice is a pretty straightforward documentary. We get all the usual talking-head commentaries from Linda’s friends and colleagues like Don Henley, Dolly Parton, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Peter Asher and David Geffen. The vocalist is heard primarily through off-camera narration of her life’s backstory. We see her modest childhood in Tucson, AZ, heading out to southern California with hopes of having a singing career, her mega success, experimenting with Broadway and Mariachi music, and finally having to accept that her later years will be spent with Parkinson’s disease.
What made Linda Ronstadt different from her contemporaries like Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Carly Simon, is that she wasn’t a songwriter. She didn’t have much interest in creating the words to her songs on paper, but instead took already existing material and put her own spin on it, as did Joan Baez and Judy Collins before her.
Linda coined hits from Warren Zevon’s “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou,” Mike Nesmith’s “Different Drum,” Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy,” Phil Everly’s “When Will I be Loved,” and her biggest charting single, Clint Ballard’s “You’re No Good.” She wasn’t exactly a standard pop star like Diana Ross or Barbra Streisand, but she wasn’t literary like classic rockers Grace Slick or Stevie Nicks either. She made country, folk, pop and rock music accessible all at once, just from her good ear and vocal range. One thing that might have been a nice addition to the documentary would be Linda’s thoughts on being one of the few women in her peer group not writing her own tracks.
The highlights of the new feature are the ton of great performance footage (especially on the big screen), and Linda delving into her family’s Mexican background and upbringing. Because of the 95-minute run time, a lot of interesting aspects of her career and life are shortened. Her first two solo albums are glossed over to allow extra detail on the 15-month period when the Eagles started as Linda’s backing band before forming their own group.
A portion of the film focuses on her relationship with former governor Jerry Brown, but there’s no mention of her involvement with filmmaker George Lucas or pop producer Chip Douglas. Nevertheless, it is refreshing that Epstein and Friedman found a way to make the ending bittersweet and hopeful rather than depressing.
All in all, I would say The Sound of My Voice is a good starting point to learn about the music legend’s life. But it’s maybe too safe and basic for devoted fans.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.