My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘Jolene’

1974 saw Dolly starting to take full control of her career, breaking with Porter Wagoner who had been such a big part of her musical life. This album was released in 1974, and is notable for including the original versions of two of Dolly’s most famous and best songs.

The title track is one of my favorite Dolly Parton songs, if not my outright favorite. A #1 for her in 1973, it was her biggest hit to date in the US and also broke her to international pop audiences a couple of years later. Inspired by a real-life incident of a red-haired woman at the bank who Dolly suspected was making advances to Dolly’s husband Carl Dean, ‘Jolene’ is a genuine country classic, and perhaps the best known of all songs with a woman’s name as the title. The narrator’s husband’s fixation on the green-eyed beauty is such that he calls out her name in his sleep, and her own misery is intense enough to address Jolene directly, flattering her while begging her not to pick this one man. The frequent repetitions of Jolene’s name centers the focus of the song on the antagonist, stressing the narrator’s helplessness.

What was to become the most-covered song in Dolly’s songbook made its first appearance: ‘I Will Always Love You’ was Dolly’s second straight #1 from the project. This song has been re-recorded by Dolly more than once before crossing over to the mainstream thanks to a cover by Whitney Houston on the soundtrack of the latter’s movie vehicle The Bodyguard. It is a mark of a great song if it can be recorded in different styles without losing its essential force, and it has also been covered by many other artists. Dolly’s original version, however, is still my favorite, with the delicately understated interpretation and crystalline vocals focusing on the intimacy of the emotion, as Dolly dwells on the words “bittersweet memories“. The song was inspired by Dolly’s decision to stop touring with Porter Wagoner in 1974 in favour of striking out on her own, and she also called a halt to her regular appearances on his TV show. A year or so later they also ended their recording collaborations. On its own merits, though, it comes across as a love song from someone relinquishing a lover for his own good – and it really is a great song.

‘When Someone Wants To Leave’ is an intensely delivered, and very good, song setting out the difficult situation which arises when only one partner is still in love. Dolly plays the loving wife all too aware her man is going to leave her someday soon, and a little more resigned to the position than the agonized wife faced with Jolene. ‘Living On Memories Of You’ is an impassioned tale of despair in the face of lost love. Even more downbeat is ‘Lonely Comin’ Down’, a Porter Wagoner song Dolly had previously included on her My Favorite Songwriter – Porter Wagoner set. These are all excellent songs, if not quite to the standard of the two classic singles.

The bouncy ‘Highlight Of My Life’ and ‘It Must Be You’ are attractive but forgettable mid-tempo love songs. ‘Randy’, another love song, is more memorable. ‘River Of Happiness’ is not very substantial lyrically, but prettily ethereal. The similar ‘Early Morning Breeze’ was revived from Coat Of Many Colors.

The CD reissue has several bonus tracks, the most memorable being the previously unreleased ‘Cracker Jack’, about a child who adopts an abandoned and starving puppy who becomes her best friend.

Grade: A


4 responses to “Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘Jolene’

  1. Ben Foster July 13, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Another favorite album of mine, particularly because it includes my favorite Dolly song “I Will Always Love You.” Dolly’s version is definitely my favorite as well. While Whitney’s version was a stunning display of her vocal power, I found Dolly’s understative, less-theatric version to be more effective at conveying the emotions behind the song.

    • J.R. Journey July 14, 2011 at 12:15 pm

      That’s precisely the reason I think Dolly’s recording of “I WIll Always Love You” is a step above Houston’s knockout performance. As the songwriter she obviously had the emotional advantage anyway, especially considering she wrote it at a pivotal point in her life and career. It’s Dolly’s version that really conveys the meaning, and the necessary pathos, that’s still unmatched on the many covers over the years. I thought Linda Ronstadt came closest to Dolly’s take, but even she falls flat on that particular song.

      This os one of my favorite Dolly Parton studio albums as well, and the definite favorite from this era. Great review.

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  3. Razor X July 13, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    This is a great album.

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