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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