Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Best of Dolly Parton - Dolly Parton

The Best of Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton
RCA  LSP-4449

Earlier I blogged about a 1975 Parton album also entitled "Best of Dolly Parton"  This one was released 5 years earlier and covers the period of 1968 to 1970 when Parton was first becoming a country star.  The songs are not as famous as the ones on the 1975 album but it is still an excellent record.  I recently saw Parton's show at the Hollywood Bowl.  She is a great entertainer, her versatility is amazing.  She covered Katrina and the Waves, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Sly and the Family Stone, Ike and Tina Turner, Miley Cyrus and rapped as well.  Actually the rap was pretty embarrassing but the covers were surprisingly good.  However I would have preferred it if she had done more country music.  She did perform a bunch of the classics from the 1975 comp, but only one from this one, "Mule Skinner Blues."  That's too bad because there are plenty of songs on here that are just as good or better than the pop songs she did at her show.  This album kicks off with her version of Jimmie Rodgers' "Mule Skinner Blues" which was a big country hit for her in 1970.  She changed the lyrics a bit to make it more personal and she gives a very robust performance.  It is a lot of fun to listen to and yes she can yodel just fine.  It is followed by my favorite song on the record, the moving "Down From Dover" also from 1970.  I consider it the best song of her early work.  It tells the story of a pregnant girl abandoned by her boyfriend and her parents who eventually gives birth to a stillborn baby.  Pretty grim stuff but not untypical of the dark themes that she explored in her music early in her career and to Parton's credit the song is never maudlin, her narrator always keeps her dignity.  It is a haunting song driven by a strong bass line with a heartbreaking vocal from Parton, her quiet desperation reminds me of "Jolene."  The gloom continues in "My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy"  about a New Orleans prostitute missing the boyfriend she left back in Tennessee.  It is an amazingly poignant song, no matter how melodramatic her lyrics may be, Parton always manages to infuse them with sincerity.  There is no relief in "In the Good Old Days" which recalls her childhood hardships with an unrelenting stream of harrowing details.  It is like the dark flipside of her later hit "My Tennessee Mountain Home" without the optimism and nostalgia.  It gives some hint of the forces that drive her.  The jaunty tune for "Gypsy, Joe and Me" suggests that it will be more cheerful, but instead she narrates the deaths of her dog, boyfriend and finally herself.  You would think this stream of tragic songs would be hard to listen to, but Parton's indomitable spirit permeates each song and makes them almost life affirming in their effect.  She recognizes life's tragic side, but is determined to go forward with a positive outlook.   Side two begins with her cover of "In the Ghetto."  Her version is more subdued than Elvis' hit version but she stills sings it with plenty of feeling.  The feminist "Just Because I'm A Woman" is my other favorite song on the record.  It criticizes the double standard and Parton's passionate vocal really sends me.  It is a terrific song, among her very best.  "Daddy Come and Get Me" is another dark song.  The narrator pleads for her father to come rescue her from the mental hospital that her unfaithful husband has committed her to.  It is a bit over the top, but Parton manages to keep it from sounding too ridiculous with her powerful vocal.  I like her version of "How Great Thou Art" almost as much as Elvis' version but I dislike the corny choral background arrangement that intrudes on the beauty of her vocal.  The album finishes strong with the upbeat "Just The Way I Am" which celebrates her uniqueness and her refusal to conform to the expectations of others.  It makes me want to give her a hug.  This album showcases that Parson was a gifted songwriter with a terrific voice, even at this early stage in her career.  This collection is not quite up to the standard of the songs on the classic 1975 compilation, but it is still essential music that anyone who is interested in pop music ought to hear.  Recommended for people who think that "Jolene" is a better song than "9 to 5."   

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