‘The Complete Trio Collection,’ Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt
Nowhere in the backstory notes to the “The Complete Trio Collection” does it say that when Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt finally found time to unify their voices in perfect harmony that lives were healed and Jesus wept. If you’ve heard even pieces of this landmark collaboration, though, you know this to be only a slight exaggeration. After all, we are talking about three singing supremes working their magic on 21 songs across two glorious albums. And now, in addition to both 1987’s “Trio” and 1999’s “Trio II,” Rhino Records has collected an additional 20 songs from the ladies’ Grammy-winning sessions, some unreleased, some alternate takes of already-released “Trio” tunes. Among them: “Wildflowers,” Parton’s autobiographical outsider anthem split equally among the three singers, with Parton on the first verse, Harris on the second, and, finally, Ronstadt on the third (Dolly takes lead on the original, included here on the first “Trio” disc). “Calling My Children Home” is transcendent, as their voices unite in splendid harmony for a rich vocal experience on this previously unreleased a cappella track, a gut-wrenching song by bluegrass band The Country Gentlemen. Top to bottom, “The Complete Trio Collection” is a body of staggering beauty. Ronstadt will break your heart as her voice glides through “The Blue Train.” Emmy’s breathtaking lead on “When We’re Gone, Long Gone” will lighten your load. All their voices in collective grace on the stunning “Farther Along” will have you feeling thankful that this project, despite the years it took to get these gals together, has finally seen the light of day. Grade: A
Britney Spears, ‘Glory’
We love a good comeback or five, don’t we? And since burning out in the mid aughts and then blazing back with 2007’s “Blackout,” the indestructible institution known as Britney Spears has made a career out of comebacks, releasing a rollercoaster of peak- and plummeting-career albums throughout her two-decade reign. Perhaps her biggest music slump came just a few years ago, in 2013, when “Britney Jean” tanked fast and hard on the charts because her team thought the world needed a “personal” album (WTF with the shlocky EDM and chipmunk-level vocal manipulation and religious innuendo?) from someone so aloof that we all breathe a sigh of relief when she actually appears to be having a good time. The reception to “deep” Spears was ill-received, and that’s something her ninth studio album, “Glory,” recognizes and thankfully forgoes, opening with an ethereal lead-in that piggybacks off Selena Gomez’s hypnotic latest. As it eases into its own urban flavor, “Glory” delivers almost purely on the basis that Britney is best when she’s merely hawking her brand of elusiveness, writhing over suggestive come-hithers. And oh, is there writhing. From slow and sustained (“Invitation” and “Just Luv Me) to the floor-dropping kind (“Do You Want to Come Over?” and “Clumsy”), Spears has a one-track mind. This girl just wants to have fun, y’all. That giggle at the end of the swinging classic Britney romp “Private Show”? There’s actual joy present. And personality! And she’s singing! Work, bitch? This time, you bet she is. When all’s said and done, when “Liar” storms in and she’s taking that chorus to the sky, you realize the Holy Spearit has risen once again. Grade: B+
Carly Rae Jepsen, ‘E*MO*TION Side B’
What a time to be alive: Carly Rae Jepsen has released more sonic jewels from “E*MO*TION,” the best pop album of 2015. And you know the “Call Me Maybe” singer is the real deal when even her b-sides sit atop most of the current pop landscape, with the chipper opener “First Time” tapping into vintage Madonna (think “Borderline” meets “Holiday”) and “Store,” a unique fusion of what seems like two songs written at different stages during the “E*MO*TION” sessions. Tapping into the odd sweetness of stealing your boyfriend’s bike just before he breaks up with you, “Fever” employs a catchy synth-smacked chorus and, thanks to rippled drum effects, verses that are beautifully executed for maximum melancholy.
Barbra Streisand, ‘Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway’
Like any legendary singer beyond radio age, Barbra Streisand goes the duets route yet again for “Encore.” The twist? She’s invited her actor friends along for a pleasant-enough gimmick of an album, singing show tunes you’ve heard a gazillion times with Hollywood stars not all known for their voices, as if to say, “No one is allowed to sing better than me on my album.” And no one does, duh. Not Seth MacFarlane, who at least gives “Pure Imagination” his best shot. Definitely not Melissa McCarthy, who, if anything, sounds like she’d be fun to do karaoke with. But it’s hard not to feel this fluff is a waste of Babs’ precious time.