The One After the Big One: Emmylou Harris / Linda Ronstadt / Dolly Parton, TRIO II

Thursday, February 14, 2019
TRIO II Album Cover

The length of time and fitful process required to release TRIO II – the second album by the lovely triple-tiered harmony machine of Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris – should not cause one to think it is of inferior quality. Just because it emanated from sessions begun in 1994 (though it did not see release until 1999), contained five songs Ronstadt peeled off the project to use for a solo record and failed to chart as high or sell as well as the trio’s spirited debut, there are treasures to be found in the album’s grooves.


Of the three voices, Ronstadt’s is clearly the most emotive, the most often. The first verse of “High Sierra” finds her fully embodying the character in the song, with “so much passion turned to pain.” She can be subtle, as well – hers is the lead voice on “The Blue Train” (which Irish folk singer Maura O’Connell had also recorded, beautifully) and the stillness she brings to it perfectly matches the introspective quiet of the song.


Parton shines on “He Rode All the Way to Texas,” a big ballad that finds her reaching for the heavens and taking the listen along for the wondrous ascent. She also provides the oddest moment on the album, leading a take on Neil Young’s hippie soliloquy “After the Gold Rush.” To hear these three distinguished women wrap their collective harmony around the “Look at Mother Nature on the run” refrain causes a bit of cognitive dissonance.


Harris does what Emmylou Harris does best – fluttering into songs, harmonizing beautifully, before fluttering out. She also takes the lead on “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” “When We’re Gone, Long Gone,” and “You’ll Never Be the Sun,” and exudes a calm mastery in each that reminds one of her best solo work.


It’s a shame this trio couldn’t provide us with more group work when they were able (Ronstadt has retired from performing, due to her struggle with Parkinson’s disease). It means we have to savor what’s available to us, and TRIO II is a lovely companion to their classic first collaboration, and a satisfying piece of work on its own.

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