Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. Great voices.
Glyn Johns. Legendary producer.
Bruce Springsteen, Sinéad O’Connor, Jackson Browne, Rosanne Cash, Patty Griffin. Superb songwriters.
So why can’t I decide whether to pan or praise Western Wall: The Tuscon Sessions?
Ronstadt and Harris do an excellent job in choosing a set of songs to highlight their strengths individually and collectively. They treat their voices like instruments in an ensemble, selecting pieces that serve the sum of their talents.
Ronstadt has the smoother, torch-song vox; Harris has the ruddy, emotive one.
So their choice of program isn’t really to fault. Even Harris’ collaboration with Luscious Jackson’s Jill Cunniff is great. (Although the song really does sound like an outtake from the Luscious ones’ latest opus.)
No. It’s Johns’ production that causes any cognitive dissonance.
Each track on Western Wall sounds like it came from a different album. Reverb drowns “Loving the Highway Man,” while “Western Wall” sounds like it was recorded in a box. “1917” features a charmingly rough chorus of backing vocals, while “Sweet Spot” sports a stripped down arrangement.
There’s really no sense that Western Wall is a complete work — only a collection of snapshots.
And yet, the album works on that level. The more lo-fi moments bring Ronstadt’s and Harris’ immense talent closer to the listener. If they recorded the entire thing by a campfire on a Walkman, it would have been no less of a work.
Maybe that’s what they should have done in the first place.