Linda Ronstadt Rediscovers a Rare “Pretty Bird”
Linda Ronstadt -- Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Linda Ronstadt — Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

It’s so easy to sing along with Linda Ronstadt if you’ve been following her career for the last four decades. From the Stone Poneys to a brilliantly eclectic solo catalog, she can proudly take her place among the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees next month.

Ronstadt has been a willing collaborator for her whole career, and that sense of camaraderie is evident in an upcoming retrospective titled Linda Ronstadt — The Duets. Country fans in particular will enjoy hearing Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris singing Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You),” which earned the first of Ronstadt’s multiple Grammys.

Bluegrass fans will also appreciate her rendition of the Louvin Brothers’ “The New Partner Waltz” with Carl Jackson, the harmonies with Dolly Parton on “I Never Will Marry” and the previously unreleased “Pretty Bird” with bluegrass-folk singer Laurie Lewis.

“As we all know, Linda can fit her voice to almost any kind of music she chooses,” Lewis tells CMT Edge. “She is wonderful at matching vowel sounds and shaping tones to blend, as a harmony singer. And she has a deep affection for the music of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. So when she and I began singing together, I asked her if she would work out Hazel’s ‘Pretty Bird’ with me. My hunch that it would be a great blend and that she would really be able to deliver the stark lyrics were well-founded in knowledge of what she is capable of, and I think it paid off.”

Asked about the song’s imagery, Lewis adds, “There is a lot of pain beneath the surface of that song, and an equal amount of redemption and freedom. I really am attracted to Hazel’s use of imagery from nature, and my head is easily filled with images of wood thrushes singing at dusk in the West Virginia mountains. I see Hazel’s song as a warning to young women to be true to themselves, and to not allow their individual voices to be subsumed by another person’s (in this case, a man). It sounds like Hazel knows whereof she speaks.”

This a cappella version of “Pretty Bird” was originally intended for a Hazel Dickens tribute album that was never released. Now it’s nestled among duets with James Ingram, Bette Midler, Aaron Neville, Frank Sinatra, J.D. Souther, James Taylor and more. Ronstadt and her longtime manager John Boylan helped create the compilation, which will be released by Rhino Records on April 8.

Enjoy the CMT Edge premiere of Linda Ronstadt and Laurie Lewis’ “Pretty Bird.”