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Burn Movie Review

Sizzlingly Odd
In his debut feature, writer/director Mike Gan has created a small film that, if there's justice, will attain a cult-like status. "Burn" takes place in the course of one evening and entirely within the confines of a rural, out-of-the-way gas station shop.
It's the kind of place that loners might wander into for a hot cup of coffee at 3am. Obviously this is not a big budget film, but Gan squeezes an awful lot of goodness out of it. Maybe we should call it badness.

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Linda Ronstadt - Heart Like a Wheel Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a landmark of mainstream ’70s soft-rock, the peak of Linda Ronstadt’s power as a singer nonpareil.

As their taxi rode uptown in the Manhattan predawn, the singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker leaned over to Linda Ronstadt and told her about a song. This should not have been a memorable occurrence; among their early-’70s country-rock circle of musicians and writers, songs were one of the only things worth talking about—creating them, selling them, matching them to the right singer.

But something about a lyric struck Ronstadt. Writing in her memoir, Simple Dreams, more than 40 years later, she recalls the memory like it just happened: “Jerry Jeff’s face was barely visible in the gray light… He bent his head low, closed his eyes, and softly sang for me all he could remember of the song.”


By this point, Ronstadt had already recorded a handful of albums with her original mid-’60s folk trio the Stone Poneys and as a solo artist. She’d covered old standards and worked with contemporaries like Michael Nesmith, who had written her biggest hit to date, “Different Drum.” Still barely in her mid-20s, Ronstadt had already recorded dozens of other people’s songs, the vast majority of them by men. Perhaps that’s why the opening verse of Anna McGarrigle’s unrecorded ballad “Heart Like a Wheel” hit her like it did:

Some say the heart is just like a wheel
When you bend it you can’t mend it
And my love for you is like a sinking ship
And my heart is on that ship out in mid-ocean

Just a couple basic metaphors, but look how they build. A bent wheel becomes a maritime catastrophe, and a vague “some say” becomes a tragic “my love… my heart.” In four short lines with barely any words longer than one syllable, we see a person try to connect their personal pain to a universal experience, only to acknowledge that real-life heartbreak is more awful than any folksy adage can convey. “I felt like a bomb had exploded in my head,” Ronstadt writes. “It rearranged my entire musical landscape.”

She carried “Heart Like a Wheel” around for years, obtaining a reel-to-reel copy of McGarrigle’s demo and begging various managers and producers to allow her to record it. On an endless series of tours and jam sessions, in the studio recording background vocals for Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man,” in front of The Johnny Cash Show’s cameras, Ronstadt grew into a respected, if commercially undistinguished, representative of the new California sound. But she kept this one spare tune close, envisioning it as a string-laden ballad. Eventually, she begged Capitol to let her leave so she could join Asylum, a more artist-focused label recently founded by another friend, David Geffen. They agreed, but asked for one more album.

Ronstadt entered the Sound Factory in Hollywood to record her final Capitol sessions in the spring of 1974. Since Geffen was now invested in her success, she effectively had two labels working to make her new record a hit. Thanks to constant touring and collaborations with seemingly every rock musician under 30 at the time, she had acquired mesmerizing control of a voice that was growing more powerful and evocative all the time. With Ronstadt’s help, producer Peter Asher assembled an unbelievable cast of studio ringers, including members of the Eagles, who started as Ronstadt’s touring band just a few years earlier; Andrew Gold, her ace guitar player and multi-instrumentalist; and background singers including Cissy Houston, Clydie King, and Emmylou Harris. Most importantly, she finally had the clout and support to record “Heart Like a Wheel,” which Asher layered in strings just as she imagined.

Heart Like a Wheel, as the record was inevitably titled, represented a huge creative leap for Ronstadt in every conceivable way. The title track was the least country- or even contemporary-sounding song she’d ever made, while her cover of the Everly Brothers’ immortal “When Will I Be Loved,” was the hardest she’d ever rocked. She sang Hank Williams with her friend Emmylou, then turned two songs by other friends into career-defining statements: her version of J.D. Souther’s “Faithless Love” drifts on banjo and soft percussion that underline its aching, rueful lyrics, while she completely transforms Lowell George’s druggy-trucker paean “Willin’” into a swaying power ballad.

The latter song is possibly the greatest example of Ronstadt’s artistic talent in those halcyon days. The Little Feat version of “Willin’” sounds like a sloppy celebration, but Ronstadt found the yearning in it, the loneliness of a job built on back roads and amphetamines. For George’s great chorus, “If you give me weed, whites, and wine/And you show me a sign/I’ll be willin’ to be movin’,” she slows each syllable down and enlists Gold and Herb Peterson for stunning three-part harmonies that only became longer and more affecting in concert. “Willin’,” with its romantic visions of “Dallas Alice” and its pro-drug message, was the farthest that straightlaced Ronstadt ever drifted from her actual emotional life. And yet she found its heart, and sang it with as much personal conviction as she sang McGarrigle’s wounded hymn.

Heart Like a Wheel sounds—and looks—like it was made to turn Ronstadt into a superstar. More than anything, it resembles the wildly popular records that Richard Perry was producing at the time for Harry Nilsson, Barbara Streisand, and Ringo Starr: a powerhouse voice backed by top-flight studio musicians and a tracklist that drew from 1950s classics and young songwriters alike. It cannily walks the listener through all aspects of Ronstadt’s vocal talent, from the bluesy opener “You’re No Good” to her plaintive voicing on the ballads and her arena-trained capacity for belting on “When Will I Be Loved.” Even the record design seemed like a fresh start: on the cover, her face is afloat in a sea of black and her name is spelled out in sleek, art deco lettering. Especially compared to the country-gal imagery of her earlier work, this is clearly Ronstadt Mach II.

The reinvention worked. Heart Like a Wheel spent nearly a year on the Billboard album charts including a week at No. 1. “You’re No Good” became a No. 1 single while “When Will I Be Loved” and “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)” reached the Top 10 as well. The album was nominated for two 1976 Grammys including Record of the Year. Decades later, this kind of popular domination seems almost unbelievable, since the record feels a little slight. It flies by in less than 32 minutes, and despite all the consummate talent involved, no one’s contributions stand out. The songs exist purely to serve that soaring alto, and a number of them would be improved on the road. On Live in Hollywood, recorded in 1980 but only released this spring, Ronstadt sings three Heart Like a Wheel tracks and the difference is striking. The band genuinely jams on “You’re No Good,” even including a bass solo, and the tempos of “Faithless Love” and “Willin’” are slowed just enough for Ronstadt to wring maximum emotion from each line.

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Nevertheless, Heart Like a Wheel made Live in Hollywood possible. In the second half of the ’70s, Linda Ronstadt became more than just a pop star. She sold-out arenas and brought mainstream attention to cult songwriters like Warren Zevon and Elvis Costello, appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and Time, and was deemed the Queen of Rock. There had never been a female artist like her in American history, and few male rock acts were so fluent in classic songs and new ones alike, so capable and respected as a bandleader, or possessed of such a stunning, technically masterful voice.

No, Ronstadt never played an instrument in concert or on record. She never wrote her own songs, either. She had one power, but it was a superpower. Viewed from one angle, Linda Ronstadt’s career is the story of a woman gradually recognizing the power of her own voice. She had the tone early, but you can hear her control improve in each successive album. Her breaths sound more natural, her vibrato becomes more pronounced. By Heart Like a Wheel, she’d mastered it. In the ensuing years she was equally at home singing Pirates of Penzance on Broadway, making albums with big-band legend Nelson Riddle or the top Mariachi bands in Mexico, and harmonizing with Dolly Parton, Aaron Neville, or Kermit the Frog. She seemed to grasp that her voice was some supernatural gift that she had a responsibility to cultivate and share, and every time she went looking for bigger audiences, she found them eager to listen.

So what made her feel so connected to Anna McGarrigle’s little poem of lost love? As a young woman fighting her way out of a male-dominated music scene, she must have related to the deep ungendered sorrow in the song’s lyrics, but she must also have been looking for a tune that could be fully hers. She needed a lyric that she could feel more deeply than anyone else, and a melody she could bless with her unwavering tone. There was a world of music in her mind, and this one whispered verse turned out to be the key that opened it.


View my Flipboard Magazine.

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