* Scroll to the bottom for errors.

Tuesday, February 16, 1999

Three-Part Harmony: Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton & Emmylou Harris reunite for another 'Trio' take


Daily News Staff Writer

It was one of those tiny get-ready rooms at CBS, and Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris were waiting for someone to tell them it was time to go on. were in town to plug their new CD, "Trio II."

But in the meantime, a little talk. Nothing serious, nothing sustained.

Dolly was talking about a few things coming up in her* life. A gospel CD. Opening day at her Tennessee theme park, Dollywood. A couple of TV deals and something about a kid singer in Nashville, "not LeAnn Rimes, somebody even younger, can't remember her name, but she's real good."

Emmylou was saying she wants to take most of this year to write, or whatever. She mentioned walking her dogs and seeing her Nashville neighbors.

She also fretted a bit over not turning up, as she sort of promised, at Willie Nelson's gig the previous night at Tramps. She duetted with Willie on his last album, "Teatro," but she said she got into New York too late, too tired to make his show.

"If he loves me, he'll understand," she said.

Linda talked some about favorite Mexican singers, said she was working on and off on an album of harmonium classics, and noted that she does not listen much to her own albums (and she has recorded 31 in 31 years).

"I'm almost retired," she said.

Say it ain't so.

"We'll always sing," said Dolly, who began recording 33 years ago* and starting singing when she started talking.

But whether she hooks up again with Ronstadt and Harris for "Trio III," or anything else, is highly problematic. The two albums they did produce required more planning and negotiations than D-Day.

Not only that, but Asylum Records might not see a market for "Trio III." It is not even pitching "II" to country radio. It shipped the first single, "High Sierra," which is more legit country than half the music coming out of Nashville, to stations playing adult contemporary (whatever that is).

Like the award-winning "Trio," their second smart collection of country, folk and bluegrass songs, from Carter Family to Randy Newman, shows off some grand, shimmering homespun harmonies.

And like "Trio," it took forever to get to market.

The first album was released in 1987, almost a decade after it was done*, with legal and other hangups keeping it on hold. For all practical purposes, "Trio II" was finished in 1994, but it was delayed for reasons nobody seems to understand fully. said it was just about timing, and that sounds about right.

One thing's for sure, they will not tour together.

"We all love each other," said Dolly, "but we might not if we were out there every night." There are also some practical questions about schedules, contracts and such.

"At least, we're freer now than we were," said Ronstadt, acknowledging that thanks to changing tastes, fickle loyalties and passing time, things in her professional life are less hectic.

Tuned Out by Radio, But Working

It's not exactly like their careers are on the cultural scrap pile. All three turned out albums last year, and all were treated with respectful attention by critics.

It was one of Harris' busiest years, what with singing with Willie, and with the McGarrigle Sisters, and the Lilith Fair all-woman road show, and her own live "Spyboy" album.

It's a hard thing for many artists to accept, that radio isn't playing their latest records, but Parton and Harris didn't sound particularly bent out of shape over it. Ronstadt seemed even less interested.

There was no talk about this stuff in the waiting room. Just some light chatter, a couple of stories about songs, a recitation of the other TV and radio promotions they're doing, only in New York, and nonstop for two days. (They started the first day, last Thursday, with a 7 a.m. chat with Katie Couric on "Today." Emmylou said she and Dolly and Linda first sang together in her apartment in Los Angeles in the early '70s, but she couldn't remember what they sang. "Maybe the Everly Brothers," she guessed*).

Emmylou has let the silver-gray in her hair stay and she looks gorgeous, and Ronstadt obviously doesn't feel the need to squeeze into little-girl gear anymore. All three look years younger than their ages; Ronstadt and Parton were born in 1946, Harris in '47.

But still there was a guy rushing around the little room with a brush and comb, if anybody wanted, and a young woman applying paints and powders. She accidentally* dabbed a blob of cold cream on Ronstadt's silk scarf, but Linda waved away her apology.

Another guy stood by a table covered with diet colas, pretzels, bagels, Danish and various condiments. Nobody touched a bite.

"We got wake-up calls for 4:15," said Dolly, meaning a.m. "If we eat anything now, it's lunch."

The inevitable question, of course, is what about a "Trio III"?

"There's talk," said Dolly.

Ronstadt said there is a third "Trio" album, stored in Dolly's closet and scheduled for release in 2009. But the way she said it made it sound like a just-us-girls joke.

The door opened, somebody said it's showtime, and three working girls got up, took one last look in the mirror and headed for the "On Air" sign.

* Errors:

1. "in her" was one word in the original text.

2. Dolly has been recording for more than 33 years. Technically, her first recording was 42 years ago, when she cut eight songs for Louisiana's Goldband label, and "Puppy Love" was released as a single. Her first major label recording, also released as a single, was "It's Sure Gonna Hurt" on Mercury Records 37 years ago. Her first full-length recording contract started with Monument Records, with her first single on that label released 34 years ago. It was her first full-length album, Monument's "Hello I'm Dolly," which was released 33 years ago.

3. The original "Trio" album was not released a decade after it was completed. It was released only three months after it was recorded. The three women first met and publicly sang together on Dolly's show about a decade before the album was released. Plans to do an album, however, were a decade in the making. Some early Trio cuts made it onto Emmylou and Linda's records between when they met and when "Trio" came out, but none of those songs were on the "Trio" album, which was recorded in its entirety between January and November 1986 and released in February 1987.

4. On the "Today" show, Emmylou did not say she couldn't remember the name of the song they first sang together in the early '70s, and neither did she say it was an Everly Brothers song. She said she believed it was "When I Stop Dreaming" and that it was a Louvin Brothers song. Incidentally, Emmylou recorded that song with Dolly singing harmony on her 1977 lp "Luxury Liner."

5. "accidentally" was spelled with only one "l."