[Review] ‘LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE’ paints a celebratory, heartbreaking portrait of an American treasure and music icon

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Andy Begay // Contributing Writer

LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE

Rated PG-13, 95 minutes.
Director: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Cast: Linda RonstadtBonnie RaittDolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, Don Henley, David Geffen, Aaron Neville and Cameron Crowe

You know that feeling when something so great strikes a chord in your soul that your body manifests the feeling with goosebumps, a lump in your throat or an uplifting sensation in your chest – tears even?

The feeling can come from many sources, of course, but one of the most compelling—in my humble opinion anyway—is music. Whether you’re creating music or simply enjoying it, there’s just something about certain instrumental arrangements and/or vocal talent that can speak to the soul like nothing else; it’s downright ethereal.

This powerful feeling that music and, more specifically, vocal talent beget are explored through the lens of one of the music industry’s most formidable artists in PCH Films and CNN Films’ new documentary, LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE.

Produced by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, THE SOUND OF MY VOICE is a visual memoir recounting Ronstadt’s incredible journey from humble beginnings in Tucson, to superstardom in the music world, to her current life living with Parkinson’s Disease. It premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival to rave reviews and won the Best Documentary Feature Award at the Provincetown International Film Festival in June. And its praise is well warranted.

The doc is a beautifully produced narrative that’s more or less narrated by Ronstadt herself and features firsthand accounts and stories from some of the people who knew her best, including producer Peter Asher and fellow music legends Emmylou Harris, Don Henley, Dolly Parton, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and others. When reminiscing about Ronstadt, Parton at one point proclaims, “Linda could literally sing anything.” And she’s not wrong. Ronstadt’s career comprised successful stints in rock, pop, country, folk, American pop standards, opera and traditional Mexican music. 

Given her repertoire, a documentary about Ronstadt wouldn’t be complete without featuring gems from her genre-jumping catalog, and THE SOUND OF MY VOICE doesn’t disappoint in that department. Clips of her songs and high-quality footage of past performances transport you to her prime and make you wish you were in the audience to witness the full greatness of it all.

Aside from chronicling the musical accolades Ronstadt raked in during her career—including a slew of Grammy Awards and nominations, five consecutive platinum albums, and induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—THE SOUND OF MY VOICE provides a window to the past (if not a mirror of the present) in terms of how women in music were viewed, treated and expected to act in a male-dominated industry. She spoke up for and empowered women in music while fostering community, comradery, collaboration and all-around celebration of being a woman in rock ‘n’ roll at a time when it was unheard of to do so.

“She was the first female rock ‘n’ roll star,” Emmylou Harris says.

And she didn’t achieve this distinction by doing what she was told. She was determined to do what she wanted to do, how she wanted to do it.

Despite her talent, fame and success, Ronstadt began to notice complications with her singing ability in 2000. In 2013, she discovered the source of those complications when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. By that time, she had lost her ability to fully sing and had not performed live for four years. In an especially heartbreaking scene in THE SOUND OF MY VOICE, she carries a traditional Mexican tune with two family members but insists she’s not truly singing. Even though her “singing” is a far cry from that of her heyday, the scene shows her perseverance and spirit have remained intact despite her diagnosis. 

Parkinson’s may have claimed her ability to sing, but luckily for us, her beautiful artistry, chameleonic talent and breathtaking voice are preserved in pristine condition on the albums she released and in the concert footage recorded during her decades-long career.

Do yourself a favor and dive into her multifaceted catalog today, and catch LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE in theaters in September.

Grade: A-

LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE opens on September 6 in select theaters. In Dallas-Fort Worth, on September 13 at the Magnolia Theatre.

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