Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (2019)

“I still sing in my mind, but I can’t do it physically.”

In the same way that many people cling to voicemails of loved ones who’ve long since passed, the unremarkable yet steady documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice – for better and for worse – reanimates the sumptuous, immersive sound of the now Parkinson’s stricken singer, transporting you to a specific memory grounded in a certain place and time. And while the by the numbers nature of the film doesn’t do justice to Ronstadt’s otherworldly talent, it’s still interesting to see how a mere twinkling star became a pop culture supernova. Documentaries don’t get much simpler than The Sound of My Voice, but it does enough to highlight the talents and the treasure of an uncompromising artist born with an innate gift.

Brought up by a bilingual family with a multi-generational musical background, it’s no surprise that Linda Ronstadt showed an affinity – as well as a knack – for the art of entertainment. She was charming, confident, considerate. An American sweetheart with a heart of gold. And her voice was stronger than a screaming kettle. It’s not hard to understand why or how the entire country fell in love with this beautiful woman, and whose talent was few and far between. So while The Sound of My Voice serves as a great reminder to those who haven’t tuned in to her tracks for quite sometime, the picture is never better than when it examines the unique soul pulling all of the strings behind the artistry. It’s too bad that happens so little.

With the help of interviews from her peers (featuring Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and then some), The Sound of My Voice does an excellent job covering Ronstadt’s gift for singing, and the archival nature of the picture – while far too formulaic for my liking – brings her personality to light without really telling much of a story either. It’s like any other documentary you’ve ever seen. There’s just nothing spectacular about the “Behind the Music” angle taken by co-directors Jeffrey Friedman & Rob Epstein’s film, and rarely ever do they match the unmistakable talent and sincere heart of Ronstadt herself. This is an admirable effort missing heart, soul, and a sense of style.

Too safe for its own good, and in that regard rather inept when it comes to properly showcasing and emulating the singular skill of Ronstadt, The Sound of My Voice almost refuses to find any balance between the far-reaching range and the singer’s fine-tuned pitch. It’s just too safe, too slow, and so stylistically and thematically at odds with an artist who was utterly unafraid to go off and do her own thing. The Sound of My Voice gets better as it goes deeper in the final third though, reckoning the ill-fated now with the many dreams of Ronstadt’s prosperous then, yet unfortunately those moments come too little too late. I’ve never heard a singer quite like Ronstadt, yet I have honestly sat through countless documentaries exactly like this one. As a recent member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Linda Ronstadt deserves more than this PBS level treatment of her own life. The Sound of My Voice feels trivial, lackluster, automated and auto-tuned.

“Her range was huge.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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