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CD Reviews: Review of Those Were The Days by Dolly Parton
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Click here to buy yourself a copy from Amazon.com Dolly Parton: Those Were The Days (Sugar Hill 2005)

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Dolly Parton is imminently likeable. Really, really likeable. Like, even if you’re not a fan of country music, there’s still just something that radiates from her…an aura, if you will…that makes you go, “Gosh, she’s a nice lady.” And although her cleavage may have been the punch line to many a dirty joke in the ‘70s and ‘80s (and, in certain circles, all the way up to present day), Parton successfully reinvented herself as a more traditional country artist when she signed with Sugar Hill Records in the late ‘90s. She’s actually been kinda coasting for the last year or two, though; this new album, Those Were the Days, is a collection of cover songs…and one that comes on the heels of a live album (last year’s 2-disc Live and Well), no less.

Those Were the Days, thankfully, is not just your average tossing off of favorite songs, although, admittedly, it started that way. For one, Parton puts a country spin on these tracks from the ‘60s and ‘70s, but, additionally, sometime during the recording process (presumably not terribly far into it), she decided to contact the artists who originally wrote and/or recorded the originals and ask them to make cameo appearances on her new recordings of the songs. Many of them literally phoned in their guest spots – Mary Hopkin recorded her contributions to the title cut from Wales, and Yusuf Islam’s acoustic guitar on “Where Do the Children Play” was done in London – but, hey, that’s the modern world for you. Of the folks she asked to help her out, only Dylan took a pass, but, per her interview on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” Parton admitted that she never talked to him directly and, for all she knew, he may never have gotten the request at all. (She also took consolation in the fact that, had he agreed, she might not have had a chance to work with Nickel Creek, who guested on her version of “Blowin’ In The Wind,” instead.)

Some of the reinventions of the songs are slight, but the enthusiasm shines through; particular highlights are “Turn, Turn, Turn” (with Roger McGuinn), “Crimson and Clover” (with Tommy James), “Me and Bobby McGee” (with Kris Kristofferson), and “Both Sides Now” (with Judy Collins). Points must be deducted for getting a little too schmaltzy with her picks (worst offender: a version of “Imagine”), but, strangely, not for the obvious decision to add a children’s choir on “Where Do the Children Play.” Somehow, with the latter, one can imagine Dolly saying, in all wide-eyed innocence, “Golly, ya’ll, it’s about children; whatcha say we get some actual kids singin’ on there?”

It’s a stop-gap measure and will ultimately be remembered as a footnote in Parton’s career, but give credit where credit is due; even for a disc that serves little more purpose than to keep new product on the shelves ‘til she writes a few more songs, Dolly still gives it her all. 

~Will Harris 


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