Karen Hudson Reinvents a Favorite Linda Ronstadt Album on the Upper West Side
Thursday night at the Triad Theatre, Americana songstress Karen Hudson paid homage to her biggest influence, Linda Ronstadt, with a simmering performance of one of the iconic singer’s more eclectic records, Living in the USA. It was an interesting choice: you might think that someone who was once a thirteen-year-old singing into a hairbrush and noshing on Twinkies while a Ronstadt record spun on the turntable might have picked Heart Like a Wheel, or maybe even Hasten Down the Wind. By contrast, Living in the USA was a departure into harder-rocking territory, hinting at the new wave Ronstadt would flirt with a little later in her career while remaining true to her singer-songwriter roots. Hudson channeled all that while adding a livewire edge.
Seeing her out in front of a first-class band without her trusty acoustic guitar slung over her shoulder was unexpected, but she picked a role that suits her. Lord knows how much she must have practiced it with that hairbrush. “Even though our rock n roll queen has stopped singing, her voice will live on in our hearts,” Hudson asserted.
Appropriately, she was rocking a blue baseball jacket to match Ronstadt’s album cover and inner sleeve photos, switching out the gym shorts for a shimmery black dress. Guitarist Mike Fornatale kicked off the title track playing spot-on, blazing Chuck Berry riffage on his vintage Gibson SG, pedal steel player Glenn Spivack’s sailing lines adding a down-home edge that looked back to Ronstadt’s early 70s work. Meanwhile, bassist Jeff Gordon and drummer Tommy DeVito held the rocket to the rails.
Hudson reached for Ronstadt vibrato for an understated poignancy in a duo with Roth’s echoey, lullaby Rhodes in the second song, When I Grow Too Old to Dream. That’s where the baseball jacket came off and stayed off.
Roth’s first couple of chords hinted at at Warren Zevon hit – but not the one you might think – as the band pounced their way into a version of Just One Look than rocked harder than either the original singer (or Ronstadt, for that matter) probably ever envisioned, Hudson holding down the lead line forcefully beneath Suzanne Hockstein’s soaring high harmonies.
Hudson reinvented Elvis Costello’s Alison as something that would have fit in on his Taking Liberties album, pedal steel mingling with James Noyes’ sax as her phrasing echoed the original more than the Ronstadt version. Introducing a dynamic, gospel organ-driven take of J.D. Souther’s White Rhythm & Blues, Hudson goofed on the audience with a projection of what she thought might be the love child between Ronstadt and Steve Martin, considering that the two had been an item for awhile.
Hudson explained that the first song on side two, All That You Dream, was written by Little Feat’s Paul Barrere and Bill Payne as a reflection on that band’s impending breakup, her vocals matching the keening steel over a steady, flurrying groove.Next, she went deep into the elegant soul-jazz roots of the big radio hit, Ooh Baby Baby, much in the same vein as Karla Rose was singing it five years ago.
The two singers joined voices forcefully for a beefed-up take of Mohammed’s Radio, one of the more memorable Warren Zevon tunes Ronstadt recorded. Likewise, Hudson worked a defiant if heartbroken edge in Blowing Away. She closed the show in an acoustic duo with Fornaatale on an aptly fond version of Love Me Tender.
They stuck with the with the Ronstadt catalog for the first of the encores. Hockstein took over lead vocals on Love Is a Rose, with Hudson on guitar, Fornatale on banjo and Jaden Gladstone on fiddle. Their spirited, oldschool C&W romp through Silver Threads and Golden Needles offered a nod back to Skeeter Davis. The crowd wouldn’t let them go, so they pulled together a deliciously clanging, careening version of the Stones’ Dead Flowers.