I’ve been a Dolly Parton fan for a long, long time, believe it or not. I can remember singing along to “Two Doors Down” as a kid, not really knowing what it was about, and “Jolene” was one of those cool story songs that really stood out whenever you heard it on the radio. Parton has had her cheesy, kitschy moments, but what has always appealed to me is that she seems to recognize that her persona is like a cartoon, and as Jessica Rabbit once said, she’s just drawn that way.
Behind the makeup, wigs, and yes, those boobs, there’s a pretty darn good songwriter, a fact that has become more apparent as Parton has traveled more traditional paths in recent years. Her series of bluegrass albums were better than anyone had a right to expect, and even though she has retreated to a more big-production country sound since then, she has obviously learned from those more acoustic albums and incorporated that sound into her newer efforts.
Backwoods Barbie, released way back in February of this year on Parton’s own label, is a little bit of bombast (an unlikely cover of “Drive Me Crazy” by the Fine Young Cannibals, complete with fiddles) and a lot of vintage-sounding Dolly–the title song, for example, could have come off any one of her hit albums going back to the 1970s, with a steel guitar and acoustic sound that links it directly to classics such as “Tennessee Mountain Home” and “Coat of Many Colors.” If you don’t have the time or patience to listen to the whole thing, check out that song and the Celtic-sounding ballad, “Only Dreamin,” which in the right hands could be as big a song as, “I Will Always Love You” –it’s that simple, and that good.
I’m mentioning it now for two reasons–first, it’s not like Parton gets much in the way of airplay these days no matter how commercial a sound she has. Second, if you haven’t heard the new album and want to, I found a place to stream the entire thing, complete with lyrics and song-by-song information, a Parton bio, and more links. Click here to listen