A Way To Make A Living-The Dolly Parton Songbook.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

Release Date: “31st” March 2023.

On September the ‘18th’ 1967, Monument Records released Hello, I’m Dolly, the debut album twenty-one year old country singer Dolly Parton. The album reached number eleven in the US Country charts, and featured two hit singles, Dumb Blonde and Something Fishy. However, the singer from Pittman Center, Tennessee was no overnight success story.

Eight years previously, in 1959, thirteen year old Dolly Parton had released her debut single Puppy Love. After it failed to chart, it was three more years before she returned and released So Little I Wanted, So Little I Got with Buck Owens. It also failed to chart. So did It’s Sure Gonna Hurt a collaboration with The Melody Singers.

Over the next four years, Dolly Parton released a handful of singles. However, they failed to chart and commercial success eluded her as a singer. 

Meanwhile the singer was busy writing songs for other artists. Soon, she had established a reputation as a talented songwriter. Initially, the songs were recorded by stars of country music. This was just the start of the Dolly Parton story.

Over the next fifty-six years, she would sell over 100 million albums worldwide. Twenty-five of her singes topped the US Country charts, and her albums have been certified gold, platinum and multi-platinum during an award-winning career. This includes eleven Grammy Awards plus ten Country Music Association Awards. The in 2022, sixty-three years after Dolly Parton’s recording career began, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

By then, it wasn’t just country music singers that were covering Dolly Parton’s song. Her songs had recorded by everyone from stars of soul, R&B to easy  listening, psychedelic folk and indie rock. By then, the charismatic country singer was one of the biggest names in music and the great and good of music had covered her songs.

This includes the twenty-four singers and bands on A Way To Make A Living-The Dolly Parton Songbook. It’s the latest instalment in Ace Records’ critically acclaimed Songwriter Series that will be released on the ‘31st’ of March 2023.

This new and lovingly compiled compilation opens with Dolly Parton and includes Buck Owens, Percy Sledge, The Everly Brother, The Incredible String Band, Margie Joseph, Emmylou Harris and Glen Campbell. Then there’s Linda Ronstadt, The White Stripes, Maria Muldaur, Betty LaVette, Hank Williams Jr and Tina Turner. It’s an all-star lineup on A Way To Make A Living-The Dolly Parton Songbook. Choosing the highlights isn’t going to be easy.

Opening the compilation is one of Dolly Parton’s most successful single, 9 To 5. It was released in 1980 and was the theme for the comedy film of the same name. The single also featured on the album 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs. This hook-laden crossover hit topped the US Billboard 100 as well as the US Country charts. It also won two Grammy Awards for Best Country Song and Best Country Vocal Performance, Female. Forty-three years after its release this timeless song is regarded as an iconic anthem and is favourite of DJs and music lovers worldwide.

Here I Am was covered by Southern soul man Percy Sledge in 1972. However, Atlantic decided not to release the song as a single. It wasn’t until 1974 that the song featured on a German mid-price compilation. Belatedly this heartachingly beautiful soul-baring ballad was heard for the first time. It returns for an encore on A Way To Make A Living-The Dolly Parton Songbook, and features a needy, heartfelt vocal bristling with emotion.

In The Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad) was covered by The Everly Brothers for their Magnum Force album in 1984. It’s delivered in a country style with backing vocalists and accompanying them as they bring to life Dolly Parton’s autobiographical lyrics. They’re deeply moving  and filled with sadness as they tell the story of her impoverished childhood in Tennessee.

In January 1973, The Incredible String Band released their No Ruinous Feud album. The only cover included was Dolly Parton’s My Blue Tears. It’s an uplifting version where the folk and country is combined to take the song in a new and different direction.

When Margie Joseph released her eponymous album for Atlantic in 1973, Touch Your Woman was chosen as the second single This was  just a year after Dolly Parton’s version reached number sox in the US Country charts. Sadly, commercial success eluded this deeply soulful, sassy and sensual cover.

A number of the songs Dolly Parton has written are autobiographical. This includes Coat Of Many Colors. It was covered by Emmylou Harris in 1975, on her album Pieces Of The Sky. The arrangement is understated on this beautiful, moving and emotive reading of a familiar song.

Light Of A Clear Blue Morning featured on Glen Campbell’s critical acclaimed 1991 album Unconditional Love. It’s an upbeat and cinematic song with a positive message that takes on a new meaning in the hands of another country music legend.

I Will Always Love You is, without doubt, one of the finest songs Dolly Parton has written during her long and illustrious career. This much covered classic was recorded by Linda Ronstadt for her 1975 album Prisoner Disguise. It’s one of the highlights of an album that reached number four on the US Billboard 200 and was certified platinum. There’s an intensity to this beautiful and impassioned cover of a much-loved  and timeless classic.

When Dolly Parton penned My Tennessee Mountain Home she was inspired by the place she grew up. It’s a joyous and stirring song that was covered by Maria Muldaur on her 1973 eponymous debut album. It reaches number three on the US Billboard 200. The album also features the biggest single of her career Midnight At The Oasis. These two songs showcase a truly talented and versatile singer-songwriter.

In 2005, Betty LaVette made a welcome return with her I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise album. It was her first album in over twenty years and was released to widespread critical acclaim. That was no surprise given the quality of the songs on the album. This includes a cover of Dolly Parton’s Little Sparrow. The song is reinvented and takes on a new meaning. There’s a starkness and darkness to this powerful song as the Michigan-born soul singer reaches out and speaks to women suffering physically or mentally abusive relationships.

When Hank Williams Jr released his debut single in 1964,  there were the inevitable comparisons to his father. This wasn’t surprising as he was one of the legends of country music. However, Jr’s first five singles charted in the US Country charts. His cover of the Dolly Parton penned ballad was a minor hit single when it reached  number sixty on the US Country charts. It’s a poignant and wistful cover that should’ve fared better and is a reminder of a talented troubadour.

Closing A Way To Make A Living-The Dolly Parton Songbook is Tina Turner’s cover of There’ll Always Be Music. It’s one of the highlights of her 1974 debut album Tina Turns The Country On! It was recorded in LA and features some of the top country musicians. The album was produced by Tom Thacker and was an attempt to introduce the singer to  a new and wider audience with its mixture of country, folk and soft rock.

Just like previous instalments in Ace Records’ Songwriter Series, A Way To Make A Living-The Dolly Parton Songbook is a lovingly compiled and carefully curated compilation that pays tribute to a truly talented songwriter. This is a welcome addition to a long running and critically acclaimed series.

Writing songs has been something that seventy-seven year old Dolly Parton has been doing successfully since the sixties. This includes the twenty-four tracks on the compilation.

There’s contributions from many familiar faces on A Way To Make A Living-The Dolly Parton Songbook. This includes many legends of music. Unsurprisingly there’s covers by some of the biggest names in country music. They rub shoulders with stars of soul, R&B and easy  listening. That’s not forgetting covers by psychedelic folk and indie rock groups. They’ve all covered songs written by the charismatic country singer Dolly Parton, who has sold over 100 million records worldwide and nowadays, is one of the biggest names in music.

A Way To Make A Living-The Dolly Parton Songbook.

1 Comment

  1. Great write up on one of the legends in music. I’ll be looking forward to listening to this, it sounds fantastic. I believe the appreciation for her songwriting will continue to grow. As you point out there are some gems there waiting to be rediscovered and as with Betty L add their own twist.

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