It's a pretty unsettling leap from all this anger and resistance to Trio II, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton's second unapologetically anachronistic album of reverent country sentiment. It's an unsettling leap from anywhere in my life, at the moment, actually, enough of a leap that I feel faintly nauseous, listening to this record, as if I can't make my mind slow down to the music's pace, and the skew in emotional tempos is being absorbed by my semicircular canals. The effect is especially severe when I play this disc at work, where we're frantically trying to finish up development of our fourth version of our software in less than two years, with the non-engineering parts of the company already crouched in next-relay-runner positions. The software industry is very good at exploring new ideas, I've found, but not so adept at realistic planning or disciplined completion, and although I never forget that my previous company spent four years and never quite got to version one, I still don't enjoy the sensation that if our software were an aircraft we'd be clinging to the fuselage trying to bolt on what we think are the wings while the plane is already accelerating down the runway. We'll probably get them on before the tarmac runs out, just like we did the other three times, but the exercise is a lot more stressful than there's any good reason for it to be. There aren't many good reasons for the rest of my life to feel stressful, either, but it does. I don't sleep enough, I take in more books and records than I can really deal with, I've now been single for almost as long as my extended last relationship lasted, I spend the weekends getting yelled at about offside calls, and there's a planter full of obtrusively dead ivy in my kitchen window that I ought to put some flowers in, except every time I have a moment and head out to contemplate it I trip over a pile of mud-encrusted soccer gear from last weekend in my front hallway that I haven't managed to find fifteen minutes to clean yet. Am I living my life correctly? I can't tell, and I worry about it.
Trio II is not an album for worrying. The songs, as old as the Carter sisters' "Lover's Return" or as new as Harley Allen's "High Sierra", Jennifer Kimball and Tom Kimmel's "The Blue Train" and Randy Newman's misapostrophed "Feel's Like Home", nominally embody various emotions, but the point of this record is hearing Emmylou's hostly sighs, Linda's silky lilt and Dolly's twang combine, as complementary a set of human voices as any I know, and listening to it all my anxiety seems splendidly misplaced. I should find a place to sit down, a porch or a hammock or a creek bank or something, and look around me. I should stop cataloging the questions I don't know the answers to and take a moment to breathe in the answers to all the questions I never need to ask. Forget about all the indie bands I've never heard, and the singers whose torments I can't alleviate, and the forgotten geniuses I can't rescue, and just listen to some of the world's best professional makers of beauty practicing their exquisite art. If these songs are so much calmer than my life, and yet so steeped in love and awe, what is it I think they lack that my usual thrashing is supposed to supply? I don't know. But there's a stack of CDs beside my keyboard that I haven't even listened to yet, so maybe one of them will tell me.
The War Against Silence May 27, 1999