If the first songs that come to mind when you think of Dolly Parton are “Two Doors Down” and “9 to 5,” you need to pick up these albums – all three of them.
Dolly had already recorded a stack of albums and even had her own “best of” (in addition to one by her and partner/bandleader Porter Wagoner) by the time she cut Coat Of Many Colors in 1971, but this was a major step. By now her singing, songwriting, and charisma had eclipsed Wagoner’s, and in songs like “Early Morning Breeze,” “The Way I See You,” and the classic title track, a distinctive voice was becoming a mature artist, even at age 25.
My Tennessee Mountain Home, from ’73, was a further break, consisting entirely of originals for the first time. Most dealt with being homesick for her home in the Smoky Mountains. As with Coat, Bob Ferguson produced, and the session crew included some of Nashville’s finest – Buck Trent on banjo, Charlie McCoy on harmonica, Johnny Gimble on fiddle, Pig Robbins on piano, Pete Drake on steel, and Jimmy Colvard, Chip Young, Jimmy Capps, Bobby Thompson, and Dave Kirby on guitars, along with Parton herself. And once again, the title tune was a true, real-country classic.
But Jolene marked her separation from Wagoner; in fact, “I Will Always Love You” addressed that very thing. Already covered impressively by Linda Ronstadt, it of course became a mega-hit when Whitney Houston’s version was featured in the movie The Bodyguard. But Dolly’s version is the best by a country mile – the most emotional without resorting to histrionics.
She also decided to re-cut “Early Morning Breeze,” and the difference between this take, from 1973, and the 1971 version on Coat is another illustration of how rapidly Parton was growing artistically. But the title track, with its haunting acoustic fingerpicking, is the obvious standout, and will no doubt always remain Parton’s signature song.
Legacy’s expanded reissues feature rich, clear sound, excellent liner notes by Chet Flippo, plenty of pictures, and a total of nine previously unreleased bonus tracks. This is a no-brainer; it’s prime Dolly.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Aug ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.