Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris – Trio

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  • An outstanding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides, proof positive that Trio is a surprisingly well-recorded album – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Big, rich, smooth, and sweet, how did George Massenburg pull off this kind of analog sound in 1987?
  • We don’t know, but we do know good sound when we hear it, and we heard exceptionally good sound on this copy
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…that rare example of an all-star collaborative effort that truly shows everyone involved to their best advantage, and it ranks with the best of all three headliners’ work.”

*NOTE: On side two, a mark makes 4 soft ticks during the intro to Track 5, Farther Along.

With three brilliant and accomplished singers harmonizing in the studio you can imagine that faultless midrange tonality is key to the best copies, and you would be right.

Some copies had the girls’ sounding a bit dark and veiled. Some had them a bit thin and bright. The Goldilocks Principle comes into play here as it does in so many of our shootouts: the best copies find the right balance of richness and clarity.

This vintage Warner Bros. pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the best sides of Trio have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes even as late as 1987
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

This Is 1987? Seriously?

And what richness! How did so much Tubey Magic get recorded onto a tape produced in the dark ages of 1987? I can’t think of another recording from the period that sounds this good.

A big fat solid snare, full-bodied yet breathy vocals, huge amounts of space around the musicians, a wide and deep stage, dead-on tonality from top to bottom — once we got into our shootout, these unexpected sonic qualities took us completely by surprise.

As a point of comparison, I am not aware of any Emmylou Harris album that is as well recorded as Trio. As for Linda, only her best ’70s recordings are this rich and natural. Can’t say much about Dolly’s albums as we have never done a shootout for one, not that we wouldn’t like to.

What We’re Listening For on Trio

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

The Players

The musicians George Massenburg recruited to play on Trio are some of the best in the business. Their contributions to the success of the album simply cannot be overestimated.

  • Ry Cooder – tremolo guitar
  • Kenny Edwards – electric bass, acoustic bass
  • Steve Fishell – dobro, pedal steel, Hawaiian guitar
  • Russ Kunkel – drums
  • Albert Lee – acoustic guitar, mandolin
  • David Lindley – acoustic guitar, mandolin, Autoharp, Harpolek, Hawaiian guitar, dulcimer
  • Mark O’Connor – acoustic guitar, viola, fiddle, mandolin
  • Bill Payne – acoustic piano, electric piano, harmonium, Hammond organ
  • Herb Pedersen – banjo, vocal arrangement

Albert Lee

Even after all these years I still maintain that Albert Lee put on the single best guitar performance I have ever seen in my life. Caught him in a local bar about ten years ago; he played a set I still remember being awed by to this day. He’s known as a guitarist’s guitarist — you often see him on stage for the one-of big shows Clapton, Ringo and other heavy hitters put on for charity and such like.


Side One

The Pain of Loving You 
Making Plans 
To Know Him Is to Love Him 
Hobo’s Meditation 
Telling Me Lies

Side Two

My Dear Companion 
Those Memories of You 
I’ve Had Enough 
Rosewood Casket 
Farther Along

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

Bringing together Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt for the album Trio was a truly inspired idea, and not simply because they were three of the finest voices in country and pop music at the time.

While a gifted entertainer, Parton is also a business-savvy professional who will willingly set aside her gifts as a pure country singer if she thinks her audience would rather hear something like “Nine to Five.” However, give her a stage for old-school country material, and she will always rise sublimely to the occasion.

Similarly, some of Linda Ronstadt’s finest work was on her early country-rock albums (especially Heart Like a Wheel)…

And while Emmylou Harris had as strong a track record as anyone in Nashville in the 1980s, it’s obvious she loves to collaborate with others, and sings harmonies with the same rich and affecting beauty that she brings to her headlining gigs. So you take two gifted artists who need proper direction, team them up with an excellent collaborative artist, and the results should fall neatly into place.

Harris, Parton, and Ronstadt also make the most of a set of fine songs (certainly a better program than Parton or Ronstadt had taken on in the studio in a while), and producer George Massenburg lined up a wonderfully subtle and intuitive backing group, with Ry Cooder, David Lindley, and Albert Lee picking gloriously without calling undue attention to themselves.

In short, Trio is that rare example of an all-star collaborative effort that truly shows everyone involved to their best advantage, and it ranks with the best of all three headliners’ work.