Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

By devoting herself to Nelson Riddle and operetta, Sun City stalwart Linda Ronstadt has made boycotting painless; but her long-promised hookup with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, Trio (Warner), will be hard to resist for those with a weakness for the vocal luxuries of the mainstream record biz. An acoustic-country album meandering from Farther Along and Jimmie Rodgers to Kate McGarrigle and Linda Thompson, Trio is a literally thrilling apotheosis of harmony--three voices that have thrived and triumphed individually engaged in heartfelt cooperation. Free of tits, glitz and syndrums for the first time in a decade, Parton's penetrating purity dominates the album as it once did country-music history. The only one of the three who's had the courage of her roots recently, Harris sounds as thoughtful up front as she does in the backup roles re her forte. And while Ronstadt's big, plummy contralto will always hint of creamed corn, she's a luscious side dish in this company.

Although some would stick with Sam Cooke, I say Al Green is blessed with the most beautiful instrument of any male soul singer. As he ages, its boyish delicacy and mellow insouciance roughen a little; but, like Aretha Franklin, all he needs is decent material and the spirit to put it across. While his reliance on Jesus Christ has assured his recent output of a consistency Franklin's lacks, his eighth Gospel album, Soul Survivor (A&M), is his first undeniable winner since 1982's Higher Plane. Green is canny enough to go for more grit these days, but he can still muster that high moan; and by returning to the kinds of pop standards that enriched his secular days--namely, You've Got a Friend and He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother--he makes a welcome bid to connect once again with nonbelievers.

Playboy, July 1987


June 1987 Aug. 1987