Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dolly Parton- her back pages

After a slow ascent, under the auspices of Porter Wagoner, she hit an artistic peak in the early 70's followed by a commercial peak in the late 70's, which carried over to the 80's. In the few years, she's been rediscovering her roots and shunning pop crossovers, making a former hit maker into an artist. Quite a career for busty blonde who's no dummy.

What got me thinking about her again recently of course is her latest album Backwoods Barbie which she put out on her own label. It's a good album too, with her poking fun of herself in the title song, doing a good cover of the Miracles' "The Tracks of My Tears" (a natural for being a country weeper) and especially the no-bullshit-taking "Shinola."

I was also thinking of her back catalog but not "Islands in the Stream" or "Here You Come Again" (though "9 to 5" still sounds as much like a blue collar anthem as "Take This Job and Shove It"). Australia's Raven Records (who are also responsible for wonderful collections of Jerry Lee Lewis' country years on Mercury) put together a fantastic collection of her early '70's work called Mission Chapel Memories. When hardcore country fans moon about her, this is the stuff they point to as her peak- complex, moving tales like "Jolene," "Coat of Many Colors" and yes, the original and best version of "I Will Always Love You." Since her U.S. releases are full of misshapen compilations, this one's a relief to hear.

But it gets worse for Dolly and her back catalog. Not only are there dozens of collections that have her well-known 70's/80's hits unlovingly crunched together but there is absolutely no good collection whatsoever in print right now of her 60's material. For that, you'll have to dig through E-Bay or a used CD bin to find out-of-print compilations like 1993 double-CD The RCA Years 1967-1986 (with the butt-kickin' "Muleskinner Blues," the unsentimental "In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)" and the feminist statement "Just Because I'm A Woman") and Just As I Am (also on RCA, featuring the heartbreaking, psychotic title track and the sweet reminiscing of "Gypsy, Joe and Me"). This is great material and maybe it's not as sophisticated or ground-breaking as some of her early 70's stuff but it deserves to be heard again instead of wasting away on dusty shelves.


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