Trio - The Complete Trio
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The Complete Trio (Rhino, 2016)


Reviewed by Rick Bell

While we should celebrate the flawless beauty of this collection, there's a sad reality that Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris will never sing together again because of Ronstadt's battle with Parkinson's disease.

Rather than dwell on what will never be the re-release of the trio's 1987 stunning debut and the 1999 followup, "Trio II," gives us that third album - essentially a trio of records now - a collection of 20 songs that did not make the original releases (you could argue that 20 songs equals two 10-song records or not).

Alternate versions like Dolly's "Wildflowers" and "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" (she wrote both), unreleased cuts such as the a cappella "Calling My Children Home" and "Grey Funnel Line" and previously released gems including "Mr. Sandman" and "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" should be treasured as much as any song on the two original discs.

Because the trio's harmonies are so mesmerizing, it's easy to forget just how musically gorgeous the first two albums were. From Billy Payne's murmuring keyboards beneath Ronstadt's soaring vocals on the hit "Telling Me Lies" to a young Allison Krauss's fiddle and David Grisman's mandolin on "High Sierra" is just typical of producer George Massenburg's deft yet restrained production. And it's overlooked that Massenburg pretty much let the trio select the songs, choose the singer and allowed Ronstadt to handle vocal arrangement duties.

The three-disc packaging also is subtle yet gorgeous. Holly George-Warren's liner notes are informative, but not fawning. The trio each offers separate, brief recollections. The package's jewel, however, are the notes for each song on disc three by John Boylan, who handled the digital compilation.

And yes, there are the harmonies. Beat out for the Grammy's best album by U2's "Joshua Tree," "Trio" is three of popular music's greatest female vocalists stashing their solo selves for the sum of the parts. "Trio II," which includes Parton's Grammy-winning version of Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush," sounds a little less harmonic and individualistic next to disc one, but that may be the result of hectic touring and recording schedules, not to mention it being recorded a decade-plus after their first record.

That the three have a mutual admiration society for one another is apparent. That they had fun is equally obvious. But it's safe to say we are blessed and should celebrate this third, and sadly yes, final album from the trio 30 years later.

CDs by Trio

The Complete Trio, 2016

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