Friday, December 28, 2007

No. 299: Coat of Many Colors

Band: Dolly Parton
Album: Coat of Many Colors
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Parton's best record has her doing her best straight-up country work. Her Southern warble wraps itself around three Porter Wagoner songs and seven of her own.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Country is what it is; I can't get into it. I imagine this is great country, I don't identify with it very much.
Best song: The title track is pretty great, "If I Lose My Mind" is a little dirtier than I expected. That's good.
Worst song: "My Blue Tears" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Maybe.

It's pretty amazing to think that Dolly Parton wasn't a punchline at one point. To people my age, she is exactly that: One of the world's most ridiculous human beings on Earth, with outlandish makeup, giant breasts and platform shoes. She's also the Southern queen of nostalgia, with her Dollywood nonsense and her patriotic nonsense. All in all, a punchline.

Case in point: When Pitchfork reviewed three Parton reissues ("Coat of Many Colors" was one), the reviewer clearly had trouble not fully mocking Parton:

It's one of her most consistent early records, meaning that she makes it two-thirds of the way through before she hits a pedestrian song, and all the way to the last song before she hits an embarrassing one.

And that's kind of how I look at this record. It's tough to get around Parton's voice, considering my first exposure to it was "9 to 5." Nevertheless, she hits the classic country themes of poverty (the title track), small-town gossip ("She Never Met a Man (She Didn't Like)") and lovesick sadness (just about every other song on the record).

The record gets key points for one segment in "If I Lose My Mind," a Porter Wagoner. The segment?

But he done things to me I couldn't understand
Why he made me watch him love another woman
And we tried to make me love another man

Whoa! Dolly Parton is working blue, ladies and gentlemen. That's very, very dirty.


Look, this is country music. As I mention in my biases, twang just doesn't do it for me. So, a record like this doesn't speak to me. Add in Parton's voice and we have a problem.

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