My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘Dolly, Dolly, Dolly’

Derided by critics and Dolly Parton aficionados alike, the singer’s 22nd studio album would find her mining the catalogs of contemporary rock stars and their producers for material, with only a handful of these tracks coming from Music Row songwriters, and none from Dolly herself. Akin to Parton turning away from her own songwriting muse, Dolly, Dolly, Dolly was another attempt at marketing the Tennessee girl as a full-on pop star and was her least country-sounding album to date with the songs ranging from smooth acoustic pop ballads to outlandish string-laden affairs and even to (shudder) disco.   It didn’t match the sales threshold of her previous crossover albums as a gold or platinum-seller. Still, two single releases found their way to #1 and and the set found its way to the Country Albums chart top 10.

“Starting Over Again”, the lead single, was written by Donna Summer, one of the biggest star’s in music at the time of this album’s release, and her husband Bruce Sudano. It’s said to be based on the divorce of Sudano’s parents.  A tinkling piano frames Parton’s whispering vocal for the first half of the song.  Layers of percussion are added before a lush orchestra joins her and she turns up her soprano to keep up.  The story of two 50 year-olds “breaking up a happy home” was a #1 country hit and hit the U.S. top 40 for Dolly in early 1980 and Reba took a cover to #19 in 1996.  Summer never recorded the song, despite her personal connection to the song and being a co-writer, but did perform it several times over the years on television specials.

The sweetly demure “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle To You” followed at country radio, and was another chart-topper.  Here, a much more traditional country arrangement with traces of pedal steel and a much less jazzy piano follows Parton as she sings of telling her man the love she has for him is greater than any before it.  But this is the only indication of the early Dolly records, as the rest of the songs fall into a variety of styles, none of them country.  Even Parton’s trademark Appalachian twang has been smoothed out to suit the slicker arrangements.

She kicks up her heels in the synth-pop infused “Same Old Fool”, which is clever enough and Dolly sells it convincingly with her charming vocal.  It’s still terribly dated and a bit jarring to modern-trained ears.  Worse is the disco-parody sound of “Sweet Agony”, which begins with a Grateful Dead-inspired guitar intro, but is propelled by a foreign-to-me rhythm section.  Even Dolly’s crystal clear soprano is no match for these contrived dance-club lyrics though.  My least favorite track is the hard-rocking “Packin’ It Up”. With a shredding electric guitar leading the way and country-girl-comes-to-town storyline, it does sound about 25 years ahead of its time.  I wouldn’t be surprised to hear The Jane Dear Girls singing it. “You’re The Only One I’ll Ever Need” is likewise executed in the dance-pop fashion, but is a much better song and a much more flattering horn section framing the singer’s rocking soprano vocal performance.

Still trying on different vocal styles, Parton’s much more convincing as a torch-song singer than dance-floor queen with “Even a Fool Would Let Go”, a lush, swaying heartbreak number.  Its romantic mood and the singer’s buttery vocal belies its melancholy story, but is a highlight of the album for me.  Selling romantic lyrics is certainly Dolly’s strong point in this west coast pop environment. With “Say Goodnight”, which flirts with doo-wop towards the climax of the song, she plays the lovelorn heroine so convincingly I couldn’t leave her alone, not that night.

Parton is to be lauded for taking musical risks, and her gutsy performances of each track here. The songs themselves serve to showcase Parton’s knack for selecting, and not just writing, great songs. Cheesy early ’80s production aside – again supplied by Gary Klein – most of the tracks are good songs and Dolly’s unparalleled effervescence shines through the best of them.

Grade: B-

Dolly, Dolly, Dolly is available digitally at amazon. Used CD copies are very inexpensive.

11 responses to “Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘Dolly, Dolly, Dolly’

  1. Razor X July 20, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    There’s not much to like about this one, aside from “Old Flames Can’t Hold A Candle To You.” “Starting Over Again” isn’t bad but neither Dolly’s nor Reba’s version is among their best work. I don’t like the rest of the album at all. Dolly really sounds out of her element and is almost drowned out by the production most of the time. It’s arguably her worst album, though 1979’s Great Balls Of Fire is a serious contender for that title. I hate to say it, but I wouldn’t give this one anything higher than a D.

    • Occasional Hope July 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm

      I do like Old Flames.

    • Michael A. July 20, 2011 at 4:58 pm

      I think this (and Great Balls of Fire) have their moments. In my opinion, Rainbow is the album with the fewest redeeming qualities and thus, my vote for worst Dolly Parton album.

    • J.R. Journey July 21, 2011 at 2:01 pm

      I agree that Rainbow is the worst of Dolly’s pop-hubris albums. Real Love is a close second for me (though I do like “I Hope You’re Never Happy” quite a bit). I don’t like a single track from Rainbow.

      • Razor X July 21, 2011 at 5:08 pm

        I’m not a big fan of Rainbow but I like it better than this album. I did at least admire the honesty with which it was marketed. It was Dolly’s first album for Columbia and there was never any pretense about it being a country album. Country artists release pop albums all the time but rarely admit it. At least they were up-front about it. The approach they were planning to take was to release pop and country albums on an alternating basis instead of trying to accommodate both styles on one album as RCA had done. Thankfully there were no more pop albums after Rainbow flopped and White Limozeen succeeded.

        Real Love was Dolly’s last album for RCA. I liked it at the time; now, not so much.

    • Erik Pettersen March 20, 2013 at 9:26 pm

      While I realize this was written two years ago, I just have to say:
      I do find “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly” to be a bit ho-hum (I absolutely loved it when I was younger), but I think “Great Balls of Fire” is an excellent album, from the funky “Star of the Show” to the gentle “Sandy’s Song”. “Do You Think That Time Stands Still” would be in my top three Dolly songs any day of the week.

  2. Thomas July 20, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I love Reba’s version of “Starting Over” and Dolly’s touches a place in my heart too. “Old Flames” is also classic Dolly. Much like the first two singles that were released from Sugarland’s “The Incredible Machine,” Dolly’s label got it right in releasing the two best songs from this album too.

  3. Paul W Dennis July 21, 2011 at 5:41 am

    I didn’t like this album much, and I thought she butchered “Old Flames” which requires a different kind of voice to really put over. Joe Sun had recorded the song a few years earlier and really nailed it. Dolly – not so much

    For the most part, I think that the production is the biggest problem with this album

    • J.R. Journey July 21, 2011 at 2:03 pm

      I’d never heard the original “Old Flames” until I was reviewing this album, and I agree that a vocal with more timbre suits the slow-burning feel of the song. And I definitely agree that the production here (all that ’80s synthesizer … ugh) is the biggest flaw since I think most of these songs are pretty good.

  4. Mitchell Weiss November 30, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    Hi All, I’m going to disagree with the review of this album. First, selection of songs was provided by Parton producer Gary Klein. And, as we have all come to learn, Dolly Parton is strong willed and quite capable of declining to record a song or do anything she didn’t want to do. The production I’d call clean more than slick. I’m not even sure what slick production means? Listen to AC/DC or The Eagles. Is that slick? or The Bee Gees or Hall and Oats. Even The Beatles. Reviewers often use terms like slick when what they are actually trying to do is describe in musical terms something else. That something else I’m not sure. When her record producer Gary Klein wrote the smash hit “Bobby’s Girl” in 1962 was that slick? Or is slick meant to me pop? “Starting Over Again” is clear and simple. In fact I’d argue that Klein did some great producing on this song as he did what many of his contemporaries of the time couldn’t do. That is, stay out of the way and let the song breathe. The Eagles record producer Bill S. is known as one of the slickest producer in music history. Is that bad?

    • Razor X December 2, 2017 at 9:53 pm

      AC/DC, The Eagles, The Bee Gees and Hall & Oats are not country acts and are free to be as slick as they like. Country music ought not to be slick.

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