October 2005

Dolly Parton – Those Were The Days
Sugar Hill Records
Release Date: October 11, 2005

Dolly Parton has been a star ever since she first stepped out on stage in June of 1964, at the age of 18. She gained national fame with her musical partner and longtime friend Porter Wagoner, beginning in the mid-60’s. They were magic together. Parton began appearing on Wagoner’s hit television variety show and ended up becoming a regular from 1967-1974. Parton’s prolific songwriting skills and unique brand of vocals made her a talent to be reckoned with by the late 60’s and early 70’s. Over the span of her five decade career, Parton has gone on to write over 3,000 songs, some of the most familiar and beloved of all-time, including the hits “Coat of Many Colors,” “Jolene,” “Tennessee Mountain Home,” and of course, the multi-platinum mega-smash hit “I Will Always Love You,” performed by both Parton herself and Whitney Houston’s incomparable rendition from the 1992 film The Bodyguard. Aside from the exceptional relationship Parton formed with Wagoner, she also went on to form magnificent musical collaborations with Kenny Rogers, hitting #1 on the pop charts in 1983 with the Barry Gibb-penned “Islands In The Stream,” and the famous association with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt for the Grammy Award-winning albums, 1987’s Trio and its follow-up, 1999’s Trio II.

In between writing, performing and making hit records, Parton received bravura reviews for her film-acting performance in the 1980 hit film Nine To Five, co-starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin (all three remain close friends 25 years later). Other films that followed include 1982’s The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas co-starring Burt Reynolds, and one of her best, 1989’s Steel Magnolias, proving Parton could hold her own against such Oscar-winning talent as Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis and pre-“Pretty Woman,” Julia Roberts. Aside from her acting roles, Dolly has written and composed music for over a dozen films, acted in several made-for-TV films, hosted her own 1987 television variety show, simply titled “Dolly,” and has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, a multiple Grammy-winner as well as an Oscar nominee for Best Song for the aforementioned hit film, Nine To Five.

In between her songwriting, acting, producing and live performances, Dolly also opened one of the most successful theme parks, “Dollywood,” in her native Tennessee and it’s been a phenomenon ever since she cut the ribbon opening day in 1986.

After all of the accolades, Parton has recently hit the road again calling this latest outing her “Vintage Tour” to promote her new CD, Those Were The Days. The tour began August 16 in Atlantic City, New Jersey and is making its way around the country in two dozen cities, including New York’s famed Radio City Music Hall, Washington D.C., Las Vegas, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, a recent two night stop in her home territory of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (where she appeared at Dollywood), Chicago, Atlanta, Orlando, various cities in Canada and ultimately winding up in New Orleans (depending on the conditions) on December 10.

If the title to the CD, Those Were The Days, reminds you of the classic 1968 Mary Hopkin smash hit, you are spot on. Parton not only recorded that song as the kick-off single with harmony from the hit-maker herself, Mary Hopkin, but Porter Wagoner also joins in for the harmonies. The result is absolutely stunning! Aside from the title track, Parton has recorded an astounding collection of classic songs from the 60’s and 70’s with a little help from friends such as Norah Jones, Keith Urban, Nickel Creek, Lee Ann Womack and Allison Krauss, just to name a few. Other famed musicians that make appearances on the disc include Kris Kristofferson, Roger McGuinn, Tommy James, Judy Collins and, of course, Porter Wagoner.

Parton also tackles Bob Dylan’s socially relevant “Blowin’ In The Wind,” with harmony vocals provided by Nickel Creek. The vocals are sublime and the message in the song is as germane today as they unfortunately were in the Kennedy years.

Social importance is the general theme of this CD and it also plays a part in Parton’s gorgeous rendition of the 1962 hit “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” first made famous by the Kingston Trio in 1962 and then again in ’65 by the great Johnny Rivers. Norah Jones and Lee Ann Womack provide the gentle and distinctive harmonies that accompany Dolly so beautifully.

How about a classic take on a timeless Johnny Mathis love song? Dolly cuddles up with superstar Keith Urban on this magnificent duet. In a CD filled with social causes, we take a short break to hear Parton indulge on the softer side of life and love. Urban’s vocals are spectacular. They compliment each other so well, I’d love to hear more from this duo in the near future.

I have several favorite songs from the 60’s and 70’s, but without a doubt, the Cat Stevens 1971 song “Where Do The Children Play?” is on that endless hit list of mine. One wonders when a song is so identifiable with a certain artist if another can pull it off and make it acceptable. Dolly not only makes it acceptable, she puts her own indelible stamp on the song and practically claims it as her own. Interestingly enough, Cat, who now is known under his adopted name, Yusaf Islam, plays acoustic guitar, which resonates throughout the track.

The late, great Janis Joplin recorded the brilliant Kris Kristofferson-penned “Me and Bobby McGee” just weeks before she died at age 27 in 1970. Ironically, it became the biggest hit of her career and she ultimately had a #1 posthumous hit with it three months after her passing. It’s another one of the many highlights on the CD. Of course, Parton recruited Kristofferson for the harmony vocals and the end result is hauntingly beautiful.

Dolly Parton covers the 1969 Tommy James and the Shondells psychedelic classic “Crimson and Clover???!!!” That’s how I reacted a couple of years ago when I heard she recorded a cover of the Led Zeppelin signature song “Stairway To Heaven.” How many artists (especially country crossover artists) would have the nerve to even attempt such material? This is what sets Parton apart from your run-of-the-mill singers. She not only has the nerve to cover such material, she actually pulls it off superbly and gives the song its own stripped down appeal. You could call it Dolly “unplugged,” because what you’re getting is a tender vocal and a message that sometimes could’ve been lost in the theatrics of the original. Of course, James is present for his vocal harmony that adds luster to her spectacular interpretation.

It’s so appropriate that Dolly Parton recorded the timely classic “The Cruel War.” Its lyrics are most relevant and the composition is exquisite. It also doesn’t hurt when harmony vocals are provided by the extraordinary Allison Krauss, Dan Tyminski and Mindy Smith. This is another track that makes you sit back and ponder the ridiculous state of our world and the tragic consequences the soldiers face on a daily basis.

“Turn, Turn, Turn” was and IS another socially pertinent song that was recorded by the Byrds back in 1965 during the hellish days of Vietnam. Parton’s vocals are so touching, and the harmony vocal by Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn add fuel to this necessary fire. It burns red hot!

The 1966 Bobby Darin hit single “If I Were A Carpenter” is delicate and lovely. This is a duet with vocalist Joe Nichols that makes you really hear the significance of what this song is all about. The simplistic nature is all that’s important in getting its message across.

What would a socially relevant album be without a Joni Mitchell song? Parton covers one of her best, “Both Sides Now” and as great as Parton records this gem, it seems almost impossible to screw up this song. It is extraordinary. Judy Collins made it a pop hit in 1968 and her stunning harmony vocal is present on the track along with vocalist Rhonda Vincent.

Parton chose (in my opinion) the most socially conscious song ever written to close the album. I’ve only heard a handful of artists attempt the John Lennon masterpiece “Imagine,” and no matter who has sung it, the words and music are never old and the message is never dated. The song is truly universal. David Foster’s piano accompany Parton’s tender reading on one of my favorite thought provoking songs of all-time. I think Lennon would’ve been extremely pleased with this thoughtful and evocative rendition. Put it this way, we would have heard from the ever vocal Yoko had this version not met the standards it so richly deserves. So far, all is quiet at the Dakota.

I usually have something to say about a song or two that haven’t met my expectations or at least have not been as fine as I thought the artist was up to. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING that doesn’t work on this CD. Dolly, you done good, girl! For someone who will turn 60 in January, your vocals sound as fresh as they did all those years ago when you were seated at Porter Wagoner’s side. On top of it, your song selections are top-notch. This CD is one that won’t leave my player for a very, very long time.

Yes, the songs that make up Those Were The Days truly make you long for intelligent lyrics and melodies that once played on the radio 24/7. I guess that’s why the old adage, “Those were the days” is always repeated. Thank you, Dolly, for reminding us what those words and those songs still stand for.

© 2005 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.