april 2008

Dolly Parton
Dolly Records

Following an incredibly fruitful three-album tenure with Sugar Hill, Dolly Parton makes a much-ballyhooed, and ultimately successful, return to the country mainstream with Backwoods Barbie, but on her own terms, writing and largely producing the album for her own newly formed label. Well, here's looking at you, kid. Typical of her best work, Parton here delivers meaningful songs with panache, conviction and commanding style. A strong streak of vulnerability surfaces throughout, via some piercing heartbreakers where the lush production touches and Dolly's soaring, aching vocals lend a visceral punch to her accounts of a heart bruised, battered, betrayed and broken. These range from the torch-style, bluesy wailing of "Made of Stone" to the woozy, late night country-blues of "The Lonesomes," to the bitter reflections articulated in the honky tonk-flavored, pedal steel-rich screed, "I Will Forever Hate Roses." The Fine Young Cannibals hit "Drive Me Crazy"'s techno-country fusion is a likely show stopper in concert, but it's one of Dolly's lesser cover choices, lacking the lyrical and musical depth of her galvanic reimagining of "Stairway to Heaven" on 2002's Halos & Horns or, going back to 1977, New Harvest...First Gathering's country-disco arrangement of Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher" (better than mere words can suggest). On the other hand, she returns, gloriously, to the Smokey Robinson songbook again (see the aforementioned 1977 release for her version of "My Girl") for a delicious southern country-soul treatment of "Tracks of My Tears," a beautifully realized production that blends the best elements of Smokey's and Johnny Rivers's hit versions with Dolly's impeccable sense of the lyrics' emotional shadings. The title track is a winning, stone country, personal ballad in the "Coat Of Many Colors" mold in which Dolly asserts, "I might look artificial but where it counts I'm real." Never doubted, not for a second.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024