After a 6 year wait for a new album of original material from Dolly, Backwoods Barbie finally has been released. It claims to be Dolly's first mainstream Country album since the early 90's and it certainly ticks all the boxes in terms of covering every country genre. It became Dolly's highest charting album (No.2 Country and No.17 Pop) since 1991, proving that this move was definitely the right one. The only problem is that some songs resemble others in her back catalogue a little too closely, perhaps illustrating difficulty for Dolly to write unique material these days.??
Having said that, the album has many great standout tracks and the first one, Made of Stone is certainly one of them. Dolly's vocal on this is just heart wrenching, you can almost hear her pain, especially at the tearful conclusion. The title track, Backwoods Barbie, sounds like she dipped into her back catalogue of unreleased songs from the late 60's and it really is a delight to hear her sing old school Country again, replete with lyrics and instruments typical of that era.
Jesus and Gravity was an obvious single release and her best opportunity in years to get back on the radio and achieve that all elusive big solo hit, but unfortunately a No.56 placing on the Country chart must have been very disappointing. The lead single, Better Get To Livin' didn't fare much better at No.48, despite it being a great radio friendly track.
The two other notable tracks are both real tearjerkers - Only Dreamin' sounding closest to the material on her previous Bluegrass albums and Cologne, certainly my highlight on the whole album, builds and builds to a great climatic finish. She does a nice job on the vocals on the two cover selections, She Drives Me Crazy and Tracks of My Tears, with the former sounding more original and relevant. Having said that and taking into account the fact that this album follows Those Were The Days, which was solely a covers project, were these really necessary??
Getting onto the sound-alike tracks, The Lonesomes is a virtual remake of an unreleased bluesy song called Don't Get Around Much Anymore, which she first sang on her 1987 TV show. Somebody's Everything has more than a hint of Hello God about it, which was on her Halos and Horns CD and I Will Forever Hate Roses lends a little from Silver and Gold, from the Eagle As She Flies CD. Lastly, and probably one of the weaker tracks, the rocking Shinola is similar to Honky Tonk Songs, which was on the Hungry Again album.???
To summarize, this doesn't quite reach the standard of any of her trio of Bluegrass albums, which were multi-layered masterpieces or even Those Were The Days, which was the perfect concept cover album, but there are a handful of tracks which are outstanding, cementing Dolly's status as one of the greatest female songwriters of all time. Also noteworthy is her voice, at 62 it really is in great condition. There's a real rich earthy quality about it and she can still belt out the high notes better than she ever could when she was even half the age she is now. At her best she has no equals and even on autopilot she still is better than most of her rivals. This beauty could go on for many years to come and aren't we all grateful to know that??
Track Listing (all songs written by Dolly, unless indicated)
1. Better Get to Livin' (Dolly Parton, Kent Wells) ?
2. Made of Stone
3. Drives Me Crazy (Roland Gift, David Steele) ?
4. Backwoods Barbie
5. Jesus & Gravity (Betsy Ulmer, Craig Wiseman) ?
6. Only Dreamin'
7. The Tracks of My Tears (Smokey Robinson, Warren Moore, Marvin Tarplin)
8. The Lonesomes
11. I Will Forever Hate Roses?? ?
12. Somebody's Everything?