My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘My Tennessee Mountain Home’

By 1973, Dolly Parton had been an RCA recording artist for six years, and though she managed to score a few solo hits during that time, her records were still being received by radio on a rather hit-or-miss basis. One of her most successful records during this time was 1971’s autobiographical “Coat of Many Colors”, which may have provided the inspiration for My Tennessee Mountain Home, a concept album released in 1973, in which Dolly reminisced about her childhood in the Smoky Mountains.

It was common practice in the early 70s to build an album around one or two hit singles and to round it out with covers of other artists’ recent hits and filler songs for which the artist or producer held a share in the publishing rights. My Tennessee Mountain Home breaks with that tradition; each of its eleven tracks — all written by Dolly — deals with a specific memory of her life from her childhood through her early days in Nashville. It didn’t produce any major hits, but it is the most deeply personal album of Dolly’s career and as such, is one of the most important in her discography. it’s also one of those albums that needs to be listened to in its entirety in order to be fully appreciated.

The album opens with a recitation of a letter Dolly wrote to her parents shortly after her arrival in Nashville in 1964. She tries to reassure them that she is doing well and tells them not to worry, but it is also apparent that she is deeply homesick. From there she sings “I Remember”, a tribute to her parents and then focuses on specific objects she remembered from her youth, such as “The Old Black Kettle” her mother used to cook in or “Daddy’s Working Boots.” “Dr. Robert F. Thomas” is her homage to the physician who had long-served her rural community.

The centerpiece of the album is the title track, which was the only new single in the collection. Though it only reached #15 on the Billboard country singles chart, it has gone on to become a classic. It mainly deals with happy memories of her childhood. “In The Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)”, on the other hand, paints a decidedly bleaker picture in which Dolly seems a lot more conflicted about her past, talking frankly about illness, poverty and hunger. She sums up her feelings by saying:

No amount of money could buy from me the memories that I have of then,
No amount of money could pay me to go back and live through it again.

The song had first appeared in 1968 as the title track of Dolly’s second RCA album. It was released as a single at that time and reached #25 on the charts. A newly recorded version appears on My Tennessee Mountain Home and provides some balance to the mostly positive songs, as a reassurance to listeners that Parton wasn’t looking at her childhood through rose colored glasses. Merle Haggard covered the song and included it on his 1968 album Mama Tried.

The album concludes with “Down On Music Row”, in which Dolly discusses her early days in Nashville, visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame, The Grand Ole Opry,and standing on the front steps of the RCA offices of Chet Atkins and Bob Ferguson before they signed her to the label.

Legacy Recordings released My Tennessee Mountain Home on CD in 2007 as part of its American Milestones series along with a bonus track, “Sacred Memories” which originally appeared on Dolly’s 1974 album Love Is Like A Butterfly.

In the years since Dolly’s late 1970s crossover success, she has become something of a caricature, and jokes about her clothes, wigs, and makeup — not to mention certain other assets — have unfortunately sometimes overshadowed her music. My Tennessee Mountain Home stands as a testament to her strength as a songwriter and reaffirms that there is a lot more to Dolly Parton than meets the eye.

My Tennessee Mountain Home can be purchased from Amazon or iTunes.

Grade: A

One response to “Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘My Tennessee Mountain Home’

  1. Ben Foster July 11, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    I love this album, particularly because it has such a distinctly personal feel to it. My favorites are probably the title track and “In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad).”

    It really is a shame that some people don’t see past Dolly’s unique appearance to fully appreciate the depth and beauty of her music.

    “I hope someday people will realize that there’s a brain underneath the hair and a heart underneath the boobs.” – One of my favorite Dolly quotes.

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