Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris - Trio - Review
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critics' view

Bringing together Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt for the album Trio was a truly inspired idea, and not simply because they were three of the finest voices in country and pop music at the time. While a gifted entertainer, Parton is also a business-savvy professional who will willingly set aside her gifts as a pure country singer if she thinks her audience would rather hear something like "Nine to Five." However, give her a stage for old-school country material, and she will always rise sublimely to the occasion. Similarly, some of Linda Ronstadt's finest work was on her early country-rock albums (especially Heart Like a Wheel), but she seems to operate best with strong collaborators; left to her own devices, she's just as likely to pick wrong-headed material in styles not comfortable to her, but in the right settings her gifts still dazzle. And while Emmylou Harris had as strong a track record as anyone in Nashville in the 1980s, it's obvious she loves to collaborate with others, and sings harmonies with the same rich and affecting beauty that she brings to her headlining gigs. So you take two gifted artists who need proper direction, team them up with an excellent collaborative artist, and the results should fall neatly into place. In truth, that's a formula as likely as not to fail, but on Trio the experiment works brilliantly. The three vocalists display an obvious affinity and respect for one another's talents, inspiring superb performances in one another, and while they all shine in their solo spots, some of the album's most pleasurable moments are when the three harmonize, with their distinct but equally impressive voices melding into a whole that's more than the sum of its parts. Harris, Parton, and Ronstadt also make the most of a set of fine songs (certainly a better program than Parton or Ronstadt had taken on in the studio in a while), and producer George Massenburg lined up a wonderfully subtle and intuitive backing group, with Ry Cooder, David Lindley, and Albert Lee picking gloriously without calling undue attention to themselves. In short, Trio is that rare example of an all-star collaborative effort that truly shows everyone involved to their best advantage, and it ranks with the best of all three headliners' work.

Mark Deming
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