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CD: Dolly Parton – Pure and Simple | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Dolly Parton – Pure and Simple

CD: Dolly Parton – Pure and Simple

In Parton, as in Wilde – rarely pure and never simple

Dolly Parton: pared to essentials

“I may not be pure, but I’m as simple as they come,” says Dolly in the press release, by way of explanation for this latest collection. In fact, she’s neither, which is just as well – a certain pretence is a crucial part of her act.

What makes these songs work (and they don’t always) is the deliciously self-conscious tension between the two seemingly contrasting sides of her character: the dedicated wife and granddaughter of a preacher, versus the irresistibly sensual lover and artist. She’s authentically, simultaneously both things, and her art emerges from the fragrantly forbidden fruit, and feverish stew of pheremones, that emerges in between.  

For much of this album she’s on tantalising form, at her most compelling when these contradictions are given freest expression. “Can’t Be That Wrong”, full of faux-naif incredulity that the adulterous relationship she’s embarked on can be wrong, despite feeling so good, is most typical. ”Kiss It (And Make It All Better)” uses a subtler version of the trope, in which an innocent kind of kissing, as you might do to an upset child, becomes, by the breathy closing phrases, something altogether steamier.

“Mama” is a gruesome syrup of 1950s gender stereotyping

The title track, a charming duet with cute instrumentation for guitar and banjo, is less emotionally complex, even a teensy bit bland, if likable. As artistic passions go, Parton’s is a straightforward one, but it’s delivered with conviction and an enjoyable sense of melodrama. Depending as it does on a certain coyness about sex, it’s also something to treasure until that feeling vanishes into complete obsolescence.

As for the simplicity of the arrangements, they’re well suited to what you might call her chamber repertoire: more intimate songs than her trademark belters, which are still, for me, what she does best. But fans should note that this double-length release also includes a recording of her Glastonbury 2014 set, essentially a medley of her hits (both originals and covers), including “9 to 5”, “Jolene”, and “I Will Always Love You”. Should anyone find the new songs too spare, this set was well orchestrated, with the squirming string harmonies that make her best songs such a luscious treat.

The only blot on the landscape – and the only song that is truly, and disastrously, pure and simple – is “Mama”, a gruesome syrup of 1950s gender stereotyping that entirely dissipates the drama and emotional ambivalence she does well elsewhere. Surely even in her heartlands no one wants to hear a dirge in which a mother “cooks.. cleans… sews”?


As artistic passions go, Parton’s is a straightforward one, but it’s delivered with conviction and an enjoyable sense of melodrama


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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