Liner Note Author: John Boylan.
Photographer: Robert Blakeman.
Talking about the first time she harmonized with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt in 1975, Dolly Parton said, "We all got to singin' and it was absolutely incredible. It gives me chills, even now." Given Parton's remarkable life and career, one would imagine it would take a lot to prompt that reaction, but there's no false modesty in Dolly's words. Parton, Harris, and Ronstadt were all splendid vocalists on their own, but they'd also shown a talent for collaborating with others throughout their careers. And when the like-minded women decided to make an album together, they created something rare, a collaboration between three major stars that never smacks of ego. Parton, Harris, and Ronstadt brought out the best in one another on their brilliant 1987 album, Trio, with the group harmonies sounding even more glorious than their lead vocals. (Trio also found Parton and Ronstadt working with better and more flattering material than they'd had on their solo albums in quite a while.) Trio was enough of a success that the singers carved out time in their busy schedules to make another album together, 1999's Trio II, with similarly impressive results. Ronstadt's health prevents her from making another Trio album in the 21st century, but Rhino Records have given us the next best thing with The Complete Trio Collection. This three-disc set brings together Trio and Trio II in full with a bonus disc of 20 outtakes and alternate versions recorded during the sessions for the original albums. Both Trio and Trio II have aged quite well, especially the first album with its emphasis on acoustic, bluegrass-influenced arrangements that blend well with three-part harmonies. (As Harris quips in the liner notes, they were playing Americana music before it had a name.) And if disc three often covers material that appears elsewhere in the set, Parton, Harris, and Ronstadt tried enough different approaches to these songs that the variants still sound fresh, and the performances are a knockout throughout. At the end of an unreleased take of "You Don't Knock," Harris quietly says, "That one felt real good," and like Dolly, she speaks the truth. For fans of the original Trio albums, buying The Complete Trio Collection to get the disc of unreleased takes might seem a bit excessive, but for anyone with a taste for great country or folk singing who has never heard Parton, Harris, and Ronstadt's work together, this set is nothing less than essential. ~ Mark Deming