With its mournful harmonies and plaintive lyrics sung from the perspective of a mother missing her children and beckoning them to return home, the traditional tune “Calling My Children Home” is one of the most deeply moving a cappella songs of all time. Entrusting it to three of the most magical voices that have ever been raised together in song — Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt — elevates the old-time ballad even further. On September 9th, the song appears in its definitive version with the release of the Complete Trio Collection boxed set. (Listen to “Calling My Children Home” below.)
Inspired in part by the 1978 recording arranged by members of the bluegrass-gospel group the Country Gentlemen, “Calling My Children Home” was recorded for the first Trio LP, which was released in 1987. However, the track didn’t make the final cut. Now, it’s set to appear as one of the 20 rare and bonus performances that make up the third disc of the boxed set. The other two discs include the original Trio and its 1999 follow-up.
Fans of Harris have heard the song performed in her live shows for years, with two of her best-known bands, the acoustic Nash Ramblers and the stripped-down but harder-rocking quartet Spyboy, featuring Buddy Miller. Harris and those bands recorded the a cappella number together for LPs released in 1994 (At the Ryman) and 1998 (Spyboy).
The three longtime friends and collaborators did perform the song at the time the first Trio album was released, singing a short snippet of it during an interview with MTV VJ Nina Blackwood. But this breathtaking studio version is three minutes and 10 seconds worth waiting 30 years to finally hear in full.