It's been a dozen years since the Trio project brought Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris together, but their follow-up is well worth the wait. In fact, it's difficult not to gush over the pristine beauty of Trio II.
Each is a very different kind of singer: Ronstadt offers pure, powerful tones; Parton is imbued with a child-like effervescence; and Harris employs a wide, classy vibrato. Together, the textures are fabulous, and what comes through in their efforts is a love of the material and a love of the art of making music rather than a desperation for its commercial rewards.
Trio II borrows from a wide variety of sources, ranging from the pioneering Carter Family to rocker Neil Young to cynical singer-songwriter Randy Newman to bluegrass dominator Del McCoury. Asylum doesn't plan to release a single from the project, and that's probably wise, since nothing jumps out as three minutes of drive-time magic.
Instead, the magic of the album is found in its subtlety, the care with which the singers approach the music, and the way in which the backing musicians underscore that care. Ronstadt, for example, casts a stark fragility to the opening "Lover's Return," a fragility that's perfectly mirrored by David Grisman's mandolin solo. From the simple whole tones of the late Roy Huskey Jr.'s bass on "High Sierra" to Alison Krauss' flip fiddle solo on "I Feel The Blues Movin' In" to Dean Parks' cleverly voiced guitar solo on "The Blue Train," this is a team project in which every musician, vocalist and arranger has a key role in crafting an emotion.
And the emotion hits its apex in "You'll Never Be The Sun,' a Harris vehicle that celebrates the human spirit.
It's delivered with prayerful, angelic assurance, so vibrant that I literally, absolutely literally, cried. When a song makes that kind of an impact, gushing is not only understandable, it's obligatory.
**** (Four stars)
Tom Roland (Feb. 8, 1999, issue)
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"Trio II" reprises the 1987 joint effort by these three stellar voices. The eternal appeal of such ethereal singing is best epitomized in the Carter Family's "Lover's Return," with its silvery guitar chimes twining around the Trio's sweet harmony singing. As the cliche' goes, these three could make the Burbank phone book sing. The material is mostly up to such high standards, and George Massenburg's production is crystal clear and on target. Dolly Parton's pop-ish "Do I Ever Cross Mind" is rendered forever country by Emmylou Harris' trilling lead vocal. Neil Young's "After The Gold Rush" takes on a genuine fairy-tale quality in this shimmering version. Harris' lead vocal gives Donagh Long's "You'll Never Be The Sun" an anthemic quality, as does Linda Ronstadt's lead on Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home." Album closer is the O'Kanes' lovely "When We're Gone, Long Gone."
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It was worth the wait. The angelic voices of award-winning veterans Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton reunite for the first time in a dozen years for the follow-up to the 1987 album that won a Grammy and CMA award. Primarily recorded five years ago, Trio II could have been released 10 years from now and sound just as timeless.
Friendship and respect, between the three lead singers and their talented supporting cast, permeates the project. Helping them achieve their vision are such highly respected musicians as fiddler Allison Krauss, mandolinist David Grisman, drummer Jim Keltner and the late basist Roy Husky Jr., a former member of Harris' Nash Ramblers, to whom this album is dedicated.
Part of Trio II's charm is that it borrows so heavily from the bluegrass world. Whether it's the tender rendering of the Harley Allen-penned tune "High Sierra," Del McCoury's sassy "I Feel the Blues Movin' In" or the genuine strains of the Carter Family classic "Lover's Return," the acoustic blend of instruments is sublime and heartfelt. The non-electric treatments of Parton's "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind," with the lead sung by Emmylou Harris, and the majestic updating of Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush," revolving around Dolly's warble with a few liberties taken with the lyrics, are both amazing.
This reunion of three of America's most beloved singers is cause for celebration.
Nick Krewen (Feb. 16, 1999, issue)
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The celestial threesome's first album, one of the best of the late '80s, is a tough act to follow. Cut in '94 and long unreleased, Trio II comes about 75 percent of the way. Lacking the burnished, heirloom quality of Trio, it's very fine nonetheless, zigzagging like its predecessor between old-time country (the Carter Family's "Lover's Return"), slick country-pop ballads ("Blue Train") and carefully wrought art pop (Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home"). B+
Tony Scherman (Feb.12, 1999)
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THREE OUT OF FIVE STARS: Not as good as their first meeting, but darn good.
Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Three is good. Twice is better.
But is it better? Does this second coming of baby-boomer country's ultimate triple-diva cooperative, recorded in 1994 and shelved until now, actually transcend their wonderful first joint venture, in 1987? No, and nor does it actually measure up: There's not enough of Dolly at her heart-stopping best; Emmylou overindulges her penchant for garbling lyrics and wavering around the note; and while some tracks have the superbly simple acoustic, organic production of the first album, others -- "Blue Train" and Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home," both of which feature Ronstadt on lead -- are mixing-board miasmic, beautiful enough but from a whole other place.
Most of us would prefer the crystal clarity with which Ronstadt's magnificent contralto, still the most expressive voice of her generation, delivers the Carter Family's "Lover's Return." Nits must be picked, but don't get the wrong idea: At its best, this mutual-admiration society works with a vengeance approaching the heavenly. (RS 807)
Patrick Carr (March 4, 1999)
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This long-awaited, highly anticipated follow-up to 1987's much-loved initial Trio offering doesn't disappoint. On Trio II, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Dolly Parton weave a spell that's equal parts traditional and contemporary, country and folk vision and voice. It's their seamless musical blend of these counterpoints, as in the sweet, sweeping harmonies on Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" or the instrumentally spare acoustic presentation of the Carter Family's "Lover's Return,"that makes these songs such treasures. When individual voices soar and fuse together to create distinct new voices, when instinct leads the way for artistry to follow, the result is perfect harmony, pure magic.
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The trio's sound still seems as bright, fresh, and harmonically rich as a rainbow.
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SALON MAGAZINE: When three of pop and country music's purest female vocalists come together for a full-length CD, there are high expectations. After all, for the past quarter-century Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton have each had Grammy-laden careers and, in their own unique ways, captured the attention and deserved admiration of music lovers. Perhaps that's why Trio II, the most recent effort by this harmonizing threesome, is ultimately a letdown.
To be sure, this much-delayed sequel to Trio (1987) has its sublime moments. With Ronstadt singing lead on a cover of the Carter Family's "Lover's Return," the dolorous, old-time beauty of the song provides hints of how good the entire CD might have been. Unfortunately the trio wasn't as judicious with all of its song selections. Only on a few songs, the Parton-penned "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind," "Blue Train" by Jennifer Kimball and Tom Kimmel and Del McCoury's "I Feel the Blues Movin' In," does the strength of the material merit the singers' talents.
Too often the songs presented here are just this side of boring, or worse. The trivial "Feels Like Home" is a surprisingly sappy composition by the usually acidic Randy Newman. And of all the Neil Young songs to pick from, "After the Gold Rush" is a woefully uninspired choice (and not helped by questionable updating of the lyrics). On every track on this CD the singing is flawless. But missing is any real emotion or sense that the singers feel deep connection to the songs. There's a great album to be made by Parton, Ronstadt and Harris. Unfortunately, Trio II is not it.
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BIRDPAGES (UK):Sure, sure, we know it's been 12 years since the last Trio but it sure sounds like yesterday. And since no one's come back from the Great Beyond to tell us exactly how angels sound we'll have to make the earthly assumption that this is as close as we're gonna get to knowing while inhabiting this mortal coil. What's leaving a bad taste in the collective mouth is the logistics of Trio II. For starters, five of the 10 songs appear on Ronstadt's Feels Like Home exactly as they are here without either of Trio's other two thirds. It's like add a dash of Dolly and a pinch of Emmy and stir. "After The Gold Rush" appeared on Dolly's 1996 Treasures release. So here we add Linda and shake well. To compound the problem, Ronstadt's obviously bigger voice is made much too obvious by George Massenburg's overly precise production on her leads. George has been producing Linda for years, and he still insists on enlarging the woman's already powerful pipes. Fortunately for all concerned, the three new songs, Dolly's Appalachian-inspired lead on "I Feel The Blues Movin' In" and Emmylou's pristine takes on "Never Be The Sun" and "We're Gone, Long Gone," are so authentic you want to forgive Trio II its surface sins and testify. But those other six songs, as grand as they are (especially sweeping "Feels Like Home"), remind you that even angels can fall victim to sloth and laziness as easily as us mortals can. Two stars.