Ladies’ Choice

24 Mar

az_B1129769_Jolene_Dolly PartonDOLLY PARTONJolene LP (RCA, 1973)

“What about the ladies of country?” a friend has asked. And yes, I gotta admit: I failed to mention a single woman in my post about Country Music yesterday. Which is a grievous oversight, at least since Kitty Wells succeeded at being the first female artist to chart some 60+ years ago. So right off I’d thought I’d make amends by talking about this classic DOLLY PARTON LP I picked up recently in Leeds.

Jolene is a great example of just how powerful Dolly could be, prior to her late 70’s pop makeover out in Los Angeles. As on most of her records, she’s written most (all but 2) of these songs herself. And while the All Music website has taken issue with a perceived weakness in the lyrics, that criticism completely disregards the social realities faced by women in early 70’s, especially in conservative Nashville. It would also seem its author doesn’t understand the conventions of traditional country songwriting, in which Dolly is most certainly writing here. No – these lyrics are often bittersweet, sometimes angry, occasionally hopeful. But never weak.

In musical terms, there’s only strengths on display. The production eschews Countrypolitan excess, relying predominantly on Nashville A-Teamers to play tight, supporting roles. Despite their country pedigree, the band consistently flirts with less-traditional territory, mirroring Dolly’s own diverse interests. You can hear this in the urgent, minor key chord changes on the awesome title track, the muffled drum rolls on “Early Morning Breeze“, and that uncredited hand percussion that pops up more than once.

Dolly, herself, is as haunting as ever. Her Smoky Mountain soprano has that willowy flutter in it, turning an earthy and rhythmically compelling voice into something way more ghostly and ethereal. While I realise most of you never wanna hear anyone sing “I Will Always Love You” again, Dolly wrote and recorded it here first. Rather than overkill, her version relies on gorgeous understatement. 40 years on, it remains the definitive version.

The LP clocks in at barely 25 minutes. But then, what self-respecting country rec sticks around any longer? Dolly’s got other great records too (check out The Fairest Of Them All from ’69) but this one works a subtle witchcraft she rarely sought to achieve elsewhere. A keeper fr sure.

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One Response to “Ladies’ Choice”

  1. Disaster Amnesiac aka Shovedhead March 24, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Dolly is a genius.

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