Out There

The quick and the dead
Hammer
Zoe
RCA Records

Dedicated to the One I Love
Linda Ronstadt
Elektra Records

London-born Zoe Pollock rediscovers the amazing fit enjoyed by a certain sort of English female vocal with the hybrid framework of rock and blues. Like Maggie Bell before her, Zoe has a powerful voice that blends perfectly with the emotive requirements of rock and blues while retaining its accent; Hammer sounds like Joan Osborne fronting a skiffle band, or perhaps Alanis Morissette holding Clannad and Richard Thompson at gunpoint.

Her timing is less than opportune, as the market for smart women with 'tude and a tale to tell appears somewhat saturated. Fortunately, Zoe's voice is fairly pliant--she can muster Grace Slick's sneer one moment (the title track) and be as sweet and classically dulcet as Annie Haslam ("Virgin Snow") the next. Hammer escapes a charge of derivative, mainly by dint of Zoe's voice and songwriting. Her sound touches down on an eclectic array of reference points--rock, raga, ballad--and while these are almost standard alternatives these days, her band's near-jazz fluidity helps pull it off. Well done and interesting, Zoe is nonetheless of a type.

Of course, you don't get much more "of a type" than an album of lullabies, but being of a type has been Linda Ronstadt's specialty for years. Not just one type, mind you, but a bunch--pop star, country star, '40s crooner, and mariachi princess. Now she's whispering "nighty night" in a soft, slow procession of pop cuddlers like the title track, mixed in with a few classics like "Brahms Lullaby."

Perhaps Ronstadt is maneuvering for immortality, looking to live on in the memories of a generation raised listening to her in their cribs. More likely, however, is that she's merely rolling over midnap, throwing her arm over another genre. Versatility is fine but too much of it can be taken as a lack of commitment; Dedicated doesn't do too much to refute that assumption. An unkind person might say that Ronstadt seems to get lazier each time out, but Gandhi himself would have to admit that when you say a made-up word like "Ronstadtian," everybody knows exactly what you're talking about.

Besides, what baby would want to listen to her version of "Be My Baby"? With its etherized vocals and spooky, reverb-heavy church-organ accompaniment, it sounds like the soundtrack to some disturbing dream sequence from Twin Peaks, not a tuck-in tune.

To sleep, perchance to dream? Maybe just to sleep, Ronstadt says.
--Matt Weitz

 
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