My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Carl Dean

Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘Pure & Simple’

61UuqSUlcHL._SS500Dolly Parton’s career has run the gamut from moments of artistic near-perfection and long periods of crass commercialism. One of the undisputed high points of her career began in 1999 when she released the first of her acclaimed trilogy of bluegrass albums. Since then she has had moments in which she lapsed back into crossover territory, though never to the extent of her late 1970s and early 1980s output. The title of her latest effort Pure & Simple suggests a collection more in the vein of those bluegrass/acoustic albums, but she is actually attempting a delicate balancing act between tradition and more modern fare — while always remaining fully aware that she is targeting a more mature audience. And for the most part, it works.

Pure & Simple finds Dolly back on her old label RCA in partnership with her own Dolly Records. The album’s ten songs, some old and some new, were all written and produced by Dolly with Tom Rutledge and her brother-in-law Richard Dennison acting as co-producers. Though not an entirely acoustic album, the production is kept tasteful and simple — in keeping with the album’s title. Her voice still sounds lovely, but it should be noted that the none of the songs are particularly vocally challenging. She seems aware of the toll that age imposes on everyone’s vocal ability and has wisely chosen songs and arrangements that don’t push her voice past its limits.

The title track is as good as anything Dolly has ever written. She and her husband Carl Dean recently celebrated their 50th anniversary and “Pure and Simple” seems to be her away of acknowledging the milestone. It’s the album’s best song. The other new compositions are mostly more middle-of-the-road. “Forever young” is a recurring theme. It works particularly well on “I’m Sixteen”, in which the chronologically much older Dolly feels like a teenager again in the presence of her partner. The theme doesn’t work quite as well on “Head Over High Heels” which is along with “Never Not Love You” is one of the album’s weaker moments.

Although I found something to enjoy on every song — even a couple of the weaker ones — it must be noted that Dolly isn’t exactly breaking any new ground here. Two of the songs — “Say Forever You’ll Be Mine” and “Tomorrow Is Forever” are remakes of songs she originally recorded with Porter Wagoner, while “Can’t Be That Wrong” is a slightly retooled version of 1984’s “God Won’t Get You”, which borrowed its melody from “A Cowboy’s Ways”, an album cut from 1983’s Burlap and Satin. All of them are beautifully done, forever, so it’s easy to forgive Dolly’s propensity to recycle older material. “God Won’t Get You” was from Dolly’s 1984 film Rhinestone, and and told the tale of a cheater’s lament and regret. The newer version finds her taking a more unrepentant stance — replacing the lyrics “if you think that God won’t get you, well, you’re wrong” with “Can’t find it in my heart to ask forgiveness; anything that feels this right can’t be that wrong.” Though it fundamentally alters the meaning of the song, it works as well as its original incarnation. The former Porter duets are also both particularly well done.

In addition to the remakes, the album’s newer songs sometimes sound like some of the oldies but goodies in Dolly’s vast catalog. “I’m Sixteen” has the same vibe as “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind”, “Forever Love” with its’ cello-led string quartet sounds like “What Is It My Love from 1989’s White Limozeen, and some of other new tracks are reminiscent of some of the tracks from 2008’s Backwoods Barbie. Dolly may be retreading a well-worn path with many of these songs, but it is one filled with fond memories and one that I’m always happy to revisit.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy’

Released in September 1969, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy was Dolly’s third solo effort for RCA and her fourth solo album overall. At this stage of her career, she was still struggling to find her commercial breakthrough, having cracked the Top 20 as a solo artist only once, with the previous year’s “Just Because I’m A Woman.” Whereas her previous two albums had produced only one single each, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy produced three, which suggests that RCA had some faith that they were on the right track. Indeed, it is a more consistent album than its somewhat uneven predecessors, and it charted higher, peaking at #6 on the Billboard country albums chart. However, none of the singles performed well on the charts, most likely due to their depressing and controversial — by 1969 standards — subject matter. Make no mistake, this album is no happy affair. The themes explored range from poverty, infidelity, and illegitimate birth to revenge, murder, suicide and prostitution.

In the first single, “Daddy”, Dolly is a young woman urging her father not to abandon her mother in favor of a woman who is younger than his daughter. One of her weaker efforts up to this point, it was an odd choice for lead single and it failed to gain much traction at radio, though it did manage to crack the Top 40 — the only single from the album to do so.

The second single was a cover of Mac Davis’ controversial “In The Ghetto”, which had been a recent hit for Elvis Presley. It tells the tale of the vicious cycle of crime and poverty in the inner city — a problem which has only worsened over the succeeding four decades. Likely considered too topical for country radio, it died at #50, despite an excellent performance which drew praise from Elvis himself. Equally controversial was the next single, the album’s title track, which tells the story of a young woman who leaves her rural home and the boy she loves for the bright lights of the city, only to find more than she bargained for and ultimately resorting to prostitution to survive. It performed slightly better than “In The Ghetto”, climbing to #45. Despite its commercial failure, it is relatively well known today thanks to its inclusion on a number of “best of” compilations over the years.

In addition to “Daddy” and the title tack, Dolly wrote three more of the album’s twelve tracks. In “Til Death Do Us Part”, the narrator commits suicide upon learning that her husband is leaving her for another woman. “Evening Shade” tells the story of an orphans home, in which the inhabitants seek their revenge by burning the place down while the cruel headmistress is sleeping inside. “Gypsy, Joe and Me” seems like a more lighthearted affair in the beginning, telling the story of a couple of free spirits and their dog. However, both the dog and the narrator’s partner meet with tragic ends, which ultimately leads the narrator to take her own life.

The fallen woman is a recurring theme throughout Parton’s early work, so it was somewhat surprising to learn that “Home For Pete’s Sake” is one of the tunes on the album which she did not write. On the other hand, it’s a little less surprising when one takes into account that this one actually has a happy ending. Unlike Dolly’s later composition “Down From Dover”, which would appear on the following year’s album, the protagonist in Rudy Preston’s “Home For Pete’s Sake” is welcomed home by her family and ex-boyfriend when she falls pregnant after moving to the big city.

Rounding out the set are covers of Joe South’s “Games People Play”, Jean Shepherd’s “We Had All The Good Things Going”, which had been a hit for Jean Shepherd, and Porter Wagoner’s “Big Wind”. While none of these can be said to be happy songs, they range from mid- to up-tempo and thus server to lighten the mood and save the album from becoming a total case of unabated misery.

The album’s cover art shows the cabin in Tennessee where Dolly grew up, and the gentleman posing as The Blue Ridge Mountain Boy is none other than Dolly’s husband, the reclusive Carl Dean. Bob Ferguson was credited as producer, but in reality, like all of Parton’s work from this era, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy was produced by her mentor Porter Wagoner. At the time, RCA would only allow employees of the label to produce, so Ferguson got the credit even though he was rarely present in the studio when Parton and Wagoner were recording.

Bleak and somber though the subject matter may be, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy is first rate from beginning to end and is worthy of a remastering and re-release. Unfortunately, it has never been released on CD, though used vinyl copies can be purchased. In addition, most the album’s tracks can be found on various hits compilations, and many of them can be individually downloaded.

Grade: A