What does it sound like?:
In 1972, Ronee Blakley released her debut album. Elektra have kindly reissued it with the promise that it is an overlooked gem.
Judy Collins’s producer was hunting for songs and came across a soundtrack Ronee had written for a movie. He recommended her to the label and soon she was in the studio, playing her songs at the piano with a nice straight back and a high chin. She is confident and pure of voice, blending the singer-songwriting style of the time with a Country tinge. Indeed, two of the more sprightly numbers are overtly Country with pedal steel and everything.
She was actually friends with Joni Mitchell, who recommended some local musicians to back her, and Linda Ronstadt, who sings on the best song, Bluebird.
She sings in the first person mainly about finding and losing love. The opening song, Dues is about a tortured marriage, typical Country fare. Fred Hampton protests the fatal shooting of a black man by the police. Nothing much has changed, has it?
At times, she sounds like Joni Mitchell and, at others, Joan Baez. This is the problem, Ronee is a bit like lots of people and seems to skip from one character to another. The same is true of the songs. She isn’t as sexy as Linda, as righteous as Joan, as intense as Judee or as personally revealing as Joni. The songs are pleasant enough but there are few hooks embedded in the memory even after six listens.
It’s no surprise the album didn’t sell. All was not lost, however. Dylan was paying attention and hired her for Desire and The Rolling Thunder Review.
This reissue also fails to take the opportunity to remaster. It still has its layer of dust from all those years of lying unloved on a shelf. If it had a nice refreshed shiny sound, maybe the songs and the performances would grab the listener’s ear more.
She did have her big moment, though. It turned out that Ronee was a superb actor. In 1975, she was nominated for an Oscar playing a Country singer in Robert Altman’s Nashville. In the film, she sang some of her own songs, including Dues from this album.
What does it all *mean*?
Attempting to sell a product on the basis of its obscurity seems to be a flawed business plan.
Goes well with…
A sense of nostalgia.
Might suit people who like…
Ronee fits quite snugly on a shelf rubbing sleeves with Joni, Judee, Linda et al. She has the right kind of spelling in her two syllable name and a voice to match.