|Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris|
After a decade of tease and promise, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris-affectionately dubbed the "Queenston Trio" in Nashville music circles-have finally delivered their historic harmony album, which had become legend while various incarnations were started, then scrapped, as the women's schedules and label conflicts conspired for delay. Whenever a lone track from those sessions surfaced on a solo LP, such as their 1981 version of Mr. Sandman, it promised a trio album of eccentric brilliance, breathtaking vocals, and inspired instrumental backing. In short, a masterpiece. Now that "Trio" has been released, the question, of course, is whether the long-awaited project lives up to the expectations.
Ten years ago, when the singers' ages hovered around thirty, they chose a stylistic approach that incorporated country, folk, bluegrass, and a little rock-and-roll bolstered with electric instruments and red-hot picking. Since then, however, Harris divorced the original producer, Brian Ahern, Ronstadt took up with Nelson Riddle, and Parton went to Hollywood.
Now, as they've hit forty, they've mellowed somewhat, and, flying in the face of contemporary country fashion, they've opted for a traditional, acoustic, and old-fashioned sort of album-one that would, in Ronstadt's words, "sound like we lived from 1907 to 1987, and we sang the whole time." That, at least, explains why the composers here range from Jimmie Rodgers to Kate McGarrigle and Phil Spector.
Perhaps, too, there lies the reason for the album's funereal pacing, something most apparent in the songs in which Ronstadt takes the lead- Rodgers's Hobo Meditation, which sounds ridiculous coming out of the mouths of three well-heeled women, Linda Thompson and Betsy Cook's Telling Me Lies, and McGarrigle's I've Had Enough, reduced to something of a set piece here. But even the trio's rendering of the Teddy Bears' 1958 hit, To Know Him Is to Love Him, with Harris doing the honors, seems lifeless and weighted down.
Even though the album employed Ronstadt's producer, George Massenburg, and Harris's musical consultant, John Starling (as well as Harris's usual ace studio players), the most vibrant contributions are undoubtedly Parton's. Not only do her two original songs The Pain of Loving You, which she wrote with Porter Wagoner years ago, and Wildflowers-pick up the pace, but it is Parton who finally breaks the album's arch restraint with Alan O'Bryant's Those Memories of You, a strong and mournful bluegrass tune in the best Bill Monroe tradition. If the other offerings shimmer with the beauty of these angelic harmony vocals-and there are moments, particularly in Farther Along and The Pain of Loving You, that will bring you to your knees- Those Memories of You is the only track that bothers to address the soul.