Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy sing together as The Zozo Sisters on their new Vanguard release, Adieu False Heart, a blending of the lush Louisiana Cajun sound of Savoy’s rich alto and the pure soprano of Ronstadt, Tucson-born and bred, who has deep roots in America’s regional music.
“Zozo” means “little bird” in Creole, and both Linda and Ann wanted this music to reflect their abiding love for the emotional connections they have to these songs, how they soar and sing and have both uniqueness and universality. The music conjures melodies that linger, and stories that evoke such notions that the price of love is disappointment and the price of independence is longing.
“The songs are about love in all its forms,” says Ann, “and about its tender place in our hearts.” Ann, who has spent most of her musical career as she says, “belting out Cajun dancehall music,” wanted this collection to come from a certain psychological place, one of loving kindness and care.
For Linda, the songs on Adieu False Heart have that same tender resonance and the extra grace of giving her the chance to record again with Ann, their two voices blending seamlessly.
Much of Linda’s post-rock career has seen her explore Gilbert & Sullivan Operetta, American standards with Nelson Riddle and the Orchestra, Latin jazz, and the Mexican traditional music she heard and loved as a child in Tucson. But there were other strains of music in her house as she was growing up: the Cajun music that came from the Acadian settlements in southwest Louisiana and were broadcast by Channel XERF in Del Rio, Texas, and Shreveport’s KWKH, home of the Louisiana Hayride.
“We heard Cajun, bluegrass, gospel of every color, rhythm & blues when it was called race music,” she reminisces. “I used to listen to the radio under my pillow until 2 or 3 in the morning when I was just seven. People were singing about trees and grass and I’d look out of the window and see nothing but cactus and rock.” When Linda moved to Los Angeles and started to record there, Cajun fiddler Gib Gilbeau was in her band for years.
It wasn’t until 2002, however, that Linda and Ann finally got the chance to collaborate. That collection, a tribute to Cajun music titled Evangeline Made, was released by Vanguard in 2002, and was produced by Ann. In addition to Linda, it features Cajun songs performed by Richard and Linda Thompson, John Fogerty, Maria McKee, Rodney Crowell, Nick Lowe, Patty Griffin, and David Johanssen. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Traditional Folk Category. Long respected as the definitive historian of her genre, Ann is also the author of Cajun Music: A Reflection Of The People, published in 1984 by Bluebird.
Adieu False Heart is then, a natural evolution of their growing friendship and their close kinship to the music. The song choices came naturally as well. “Many of the songs are ones I’ve sung around the house for years,” says Ann. Among them are Creole French takes on “Plus Tu Tournes,” and the 1930s hit “Parlez-Moi D’Amour.” There are also two Richard Thompson songs, “Burns’ Supper” and “King of Bohemia,” Julie Miller’s “I Can’t Get Over You,” and David L. Greeley’s “Marie Mouri,” an adaptation of a slave poem, and Chas Justus’s mournful bluegrass meditation “Rattle My Cage.” The album’s title song, “Adieu False Heart,” is a traditional tune from the mid-19th Century, popularized by fiddler Arthur Smith. The first single is a heart-wrenchingly exquisite rendition of the Left Banke’s 1966 hit “Walk Away Renee.”
Linda felt comfortable with all of Ann’s tunes, and brought to the studio “Go Away From My Window,” written shortly after the turn of the 20th Century by legendary folk balladeer John Jacob Niles.
In Grammy-winning producer Steve Buckingham, Ann and Linda found someone ideally suited to take their thoughts and feelings about the songs and turn them into music. Says Ann, “We knew we wanted low-tuned guitars and cellos, bowed dulcimers, that drone-y sound that is so distinctive. Steve really made that happen.”
Recording began in the Savoy family Louisiana farmhouse studio with Ann’s son Joel, an acclaimed musician himself, as engineer. Joel invited his bandmates in the Red Stick Ramblers, Chas Justus, Glenn Fields, Eric Frey and Kevin Wimmer to play. When the project was ready to go, the group moved to Dirk Powell’s Cypress House Studios in Breaux Bridge, where Powell joined them on banjo and accordion, along with bassist Byron House, guitarists Sam Broussard, mandolin player Sam Bush, fiddle player and Stuart Duncan. Linda suggested that they extend the traditional string band by adding classical violin, viola, cello, and bass, arranged by Kristin Wilkinson.
A week of recording vocals in Tennessee and another in San Francisco finished the tracks. “Ann and I shared these unabashedly female emotions for our children, our old loves, our new loves and concerns about the difficulties of raising a family. The songs are subtle, quiet and pretty; private thoughts with a communal feel.”
While Adieu False Heart comes straight from Savoy’s swamps of Louisiana, it has a great deal of Ronstadt’s eclectic spirit as well. “The album is about two people from very different cultures who bring their creativity together and in so doing create new life for some time-tested songs of love,” says Ann.
Linda Ronstadt has sold more than 30 million albums and singles during her remarkable career, earning several Number One albums and singles, including the seven-times platinum Greatest Hits and the triple-platinum What’s New and Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind. She has also won a total of ten Grammys in various fields, including pop, country, and traditional Mexican music.
A native of Richmond, Virginia, Savoy is married to Acadian accordion player and maker Marc Savoy, has recorded with the acclaimed Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, the Savoy Family Band, which includes sons Joel and Wilson, and the all-female Magnolia Sisters that does ballads and obscure Cajun songs. She also has a swing/jazz band, Ann Savoy and Her Sleepless Knights. As a result she says, she “spends hours listening, going through beautiful music, to find things to express the emotions I am feeling so I can sing them or to find rare gems for my bands.”
She has worked with T-Bone Burnett on the soundtracks for the films “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and the upcoming remake of “All the King's Men.” In addition to Evangeline Made she has produced the CD Creole Bred, spotlighting zydeco music.
Says Ann, “Linda is an amazing chameleon. She becomes the color of what she does. The songs we have chosen for this CD are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more songs we worked on and we hope we will get to continue the Zozo Sisters musical journey.”