Dolly Parton - Jolene 
Music Disc Reviews Audio CD
Written by John Sutton-Smith   
Sunday, 01 April 2007

format:    16-bit CD
performance:    8
sound:    8
release year:    2007
first released:    1974
label:    RCA Nashville/Legacy
reviewed by:    John Sutton-Smith

It is no exaggeration to say that Dolly Parton is the grande dame of country music. Sure, Patsy, Loretta, Tammy et al helped create a truly American genre of independent, free-thinking country women, and all have freed themselves both in song and in life from the yoke of domineering men, but it is true that Dolly Parton has translated her country roots, without diluting them, to international recognition more successfully than any of these great ladies. Those who might question Parton’s authentic country heritage are perhaps aware only of Dollywood, the movie "Nine to Five," Whitney Houston’s huge hit re-make of “I Will Always Love You,” or Dolly's well-proportioned balcony upon which many a teenager, let alone nascent country fan, was weaned.

Dolly’s enormous success beyond her Locust Ridge, Tennessee mountain birthplace has obscured her deep roots in traditional country music. At 12 she appeared on Knoxville television, and by 13 she was recording and debuting on the Grand Ole Opry. In 1967 she caught country legend Porter Wagoner's ear, and for the next seven years performed with him on tour and record. By the time her “Joshua” reached #1 in 1970, Parton's fame had overshadowed that of her boss, and she struck out on her own (though still recording duets with him).

Parton then embarked upon a solo career, the first three albums of which produced some of the most sublime, pure and enchanting country pop vocals you could ever wish to hear, and which have now all been re-released with expanded editions that include a generous number of delightful unreleased gems, serving to remind us what an uncommon musical treasure Ms. Parton has always been.

Both the Coat of Many Colors and My Tennessee Mountain Home albums contained tracks that would prove to be signature songs for Dolly, especially the title tracks: “Coat” brilliantly illustrates the poverty of growing up one of 12 children on a rundown farm, and introduced her to the world as a songwriter of note. But Parton’s third solo effort, Jolene, really cemented her reputation as a singular songwriter and a true country phenomenon, stretching beyond the bounds of Wagoner’s traditional but stifling limits.

By now she was writing almost all her own material, and while the title track is a gorgeous lost lover’s lament, with early feminist tones, that continues to resonate in covers today, it is the plaintive ballad “I Will Always Love You” that strikes one for its pure, unadulterated emotion. Although overwhelmed by the massive success of Houston’s pop-oriented cover, Parton’s original was a tribute to her old partner Wagoner, in fact a Dear John letter to let him know she was striking out on her own. It is the kind of song great songwriters know they are lucky enough to come up with perhaps once in their lives, and yet in the context of this album it is but one of many philosophical, yet upbeat, down-home country tunes.

The maturation of the songs, confidence in her performance and Dolly’s acceptance as a true country talent combined to create this triumphant sound of a new star’s arrival. Produced, as the previous two, by Bob Ferguson and backed by the core of Nashville’s session talent, Jolene brims and shines with Dolly’s personality and joie de vivre. All tinsel aside, Parton can still be pure country when she wants to be, and songs like "Jolene," "When Someone Wants to Leave" and "Highlight of My Life" show that Dolly Parton has always been a woman of considerable talents, her songwriting perhaps as formidable as her singing.

Extra Features
The expanded edition of Jolene comes with four excellent bonus tracks, all from the same sessions, and it’s hard to imagine how they escaped inclusion on the original release. From “Cracker Jack,” a playful ode to a stray dog, to the gorgeous laments “Another Woman’s Man” and “Barbara on Your Mind,” they display Parton’s compositional talents to their fullest. In the same tradition, “Last Night’s Lovin’” is a saucy finale that incorporates Dolly’s true talent, combining the country dilemmas of faithfulness and failure.

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