By Bruce A. Smith
October, 2008 – The Paramount Theater, Seattle
Attending one of Linda Ronstadt’s Tex-Mex concerts is like driving through the night to Mexico on Spring Break. When you start off everything looks familiar and everyone is speaking English, but when the sun rises you’re in ol’ Mey-he-co and the only folks you understand are your buddies in the back seat of the car.
It’s the same with Linda and her mariachi camperos, led by the ageless and renown Nati Cano. It’s all-Espanol-all-the-time, although Ms. Ronstadt did chat a bit en Inglés between a few songs. But basically you were on your own to scrape by on whatever high school Spanish was left over in your memory bank. There was never even a hint of Blue Bayou all night long.
Fortunately, I was graced with the company of Mary McCann, an on-air personality from KPLU, the NPR jazz station in Tacoma, and it turned out that Mary once hailed from Arizona and was needing a fix of authentic Mey-he-co big-time. With her grasp of the lingo she was able to keep me apprised of most of the details. However, I do think she missed a few of the jokes told by the Nati Cano Mariachis because she wasn’t laughing as loud as the rest of the audience, which must have been at least two-thirds Espanol-fluent.
That said, Ronstadt’s “A Romantic Evening in Old Mexico,” was delicious. You were there in the old country, fully, and surrounded by great music, folk dancers and Cano’s nine Mariachis. In fact, Los Camperos de Nati Cano opened the show and held forth for several numbers before Linda strolled on stage.
Linda told us her show was based on the ballads she learned in her Tucson backyard growing up as a kid, joining in family sing-alongs. I assume her folks were Mexican, at least her padre, and I wished she would have explained her family heritage a bit more fully. Maybe she did, but I no hablo Espanol bueno enough to catch it on the fly.
I was also astonished at her vocal power. In her range, she was awesome, as strong as any performer I have ever heard on stage. However, her song selection did challenge her at times in the upper registers; nevertheless, I was generally satisfied with what she offered.
A special treat was listening to the vocal firepower that the Mariachis delivered both in solos and duets with Ms. Ronstadt. Those guys rocked, but in the duets you could tell the senorita knew a few tricks they have yet to learn.
The show was short, only 80 minutes or so, and there was no encore. But sonically and psychologically Linda transported you to the old country, fully immersing her listeners in the ranchera music of Northern Mexico.
For me, besides chair-dancing to a couple salsa numbers, I even began to get the hang of the Espanol. By the end of the show mi corazon was filled con l’amore pour la luna, or something like that.
As for the guys backstage, they didn’t have much to do once again as the Paramount Theater was dressed in simple black, with only a few overhead lights to give visual effects.
As for their sound, Linda Ronstadt delivered the goods, and that is what I carried from the show: her power and passion for the Canciones de Mi Padre.
© 2008, 2012 Bruce A. Smith