Dolly Parton: My Top 5

For my celebration of Women’s History Month, I have neglected to write about a legendary country artist. To be honest, it is hard to narrow down the Queens of Country music. There are so many, from Patsy and Loretta to Reba and Tammy.

I’ve touched on many of them throughout the tenure of my blog. I have always wanted to write about Patsy Cline, but I’m still searching for words. So I decided to ask my mom, who knows my music taste better than anyone, on who I should write about next. She promptly reminded me that I had not written over one of the most influential female vocalists that does it all, from writing and producing to singing and performing. For my 5th installment, I bring you my top 5 favorite Dolly Parton songs.

I have been a Dolly Parton fan since the seventh grade. It’s odd that I remember this exact time, but I remember I first became interested in her when I saw her on the Conon O’Brien show. She was promoting her latest album, Little Sparrow. Like so many artists with me, it was all down hill from there. I haven’t stopped listening to her music since and I always check the record racks for more of her vinyl.

1. “A Tender Lie”

This song was originally sung by Restless Heart and was their last number one on the country charts. Parton gives it a tinge of classic country and a full bluegrass makeover. Her voice is so fragile on this song, but we all know the strength she possesses. This song was a perfect choice for her Little Sparrow album and Sugar Hill trilogy.

2. “Here You Come Again”

I love so many aspects of this song, from the opening piano riff to Parton’s sassy and sarcastic vocals. Every time I think somebody is gone and they return, my mind always sings this song. This is classic Dolly at her 70’s best.

3. “Joshua”

Parton has some of the best story telling skills of any musician. She encompasses every theme of country music. She often does this through creative stories, not personal accounts. This is part of her legacy. “Joshua” came out in 1970 and was Parton’s first number one hit.

4. “Light of a Clear Blue Morning”

I discovered this song a few years ago when I lived in Oklahoma. Thanksgiving was coming up and I was feeling really down about my family situation. I grew up in a tight-knit family that just seemed to fall apart for selfish reasons and holidays always brought that to mind. This song was a comfort for me and for a bright future ahead.

5. “He’s Alive”

Throughout my faith journey, I have found many of Parton’s songs to be inspiring (“Raven Dove,” “Hello God”). I adore how she stands up for her faith unabashedly without the judgment of others. She shows the love of Jesus through her spiritual compositions, performances, and actions. The video above is one we all know. It is her legendary performance of “He’s Alive” from the 1989 CMA awards. I get chills every time I hear this song and see this performance.

These are my top five favorite Dolly Parton songs at the moment. It’s safe to note that this is a fluctuating list and it is not comprehensive. I would need a list of 20 songs or more to truly list all my favorite Parton songs and then I’d still miss many!

Dolly Parton is one of country music and America’s greatest treasures. I have yet to see her in concert, but I will make it soon. The fact that she is still creating new music and states that she has 100’s of songs she hasn’t recorded blows me away. She can’t stop making albums; we must not let her!! I will gladly sit and wait for every last note.

 

Tina Turner Country…Music?

There is barely any debate among music critics and listeners wheather or not Tina Turner is an impeccable artist. She has a style that cannot be replicated and a legacy that is sealed into society’s consciousness. Find me one person that doesn’t know when to shake their head during “Proud Mary” and I’d be shocked.

IMG_2377There is more music that often goes unnoticed from her career between being a solo superstar with the album Private Dancer and her tenure with the Ike and Tina Turner Review. Between the years of 1974, a year before she divorced Ike, and 1984, the year “What’s Love Got To Do With It” went number one, Tina recorded multiple albums to little success.

The first of these albums was Tina Turns The Country On! This album finds Tina at her first solo experiment. When looking at music history and the history of Tina’s style, the choice to release an album of country and western covers does not seem like the obvious next step in her career. Yet this album speaks volumes of where Tina was at in 1974 and also widens her breadth as a vocal artist.

This album comes right at the end of Ike and Tina Turner’s marriage. Their popularity had waned in the 70’s due to Ike’s frequent drug use, which resulted in missed and postponed shows. Tina was beginning to build her nerve through inspiration she had found through Buddhism which was the budding of her independence.

That’s the diamond in the rough when it comes to Tina’s first solo album: independence. For the first time, she was given the most freedom on how she was going to conduct herself as a muscian.

Tina Turns The Country On! is completely…country. Tina knows country because she was brought up in Tennessee, but I don’t think anybody was expecting her to sing it. Each song is a cover of a country hit with a new arrangement and that arrangement was…country.

Tina Turner, the queen of rock and roll R&B, now had twang.

IMG_2378I could see Tina doing a twist off of Ray Charles successes from his early 1960’s country themed albums, but I didn’t expect a performance I would have readily seen on The Wilburn Brothers Show or The Johnny Cash Show. I was expecting a blended mix of early R&B and country, but instead she fit in perfectly right next to Loretta Lynn.

There are three levels of Tina within the album and with each level she becomes more…Tina. I call the first level “Mid-Tina.” This level finds Tina singing with the roughness we have all grown to love, but mixed with smooth twang. We find this on the songs “Bayou Song, “If You Love Me Let Me Know,” and “Don’t Talk Now.”

Next we venture into “Tina Turned Up.” This is the Tina we generally find in her earlier recordings with Ike Turner. These elements are found in songs such as Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” and Hank Snow’s “I’m Moving On.”

Lastly, we have “Tina Turned Down.” In this level, Tina demonstrates her chops for delivering straightforward and easy masterpieces. This level contains all my favorite songs from this album. First she sings a vulnerable and rousing rendition of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night.” Her voice is as smooth and liquid as melted butter. Her performance of this song finds her vocals in their most purest form. It is like they come from a child.

Tina-Album-Tina-Turns-The-Country-On-Promo-02Then there is the hopeful Dolly Parton cover “There’ll Always Be Music.” I could easily see a choir erupting behind Tina at any moment during this recording. Her genuine love of unadulterated music is on complete view. She then closes out the album with “The Love That Light’s Our Way.” This song eludes to the concrete truth that love will always prevail and lead the way, a sentiment that was muddled for Tina at this time. Her vocals in this song will convince anybody, that truth and love always prevails, something she still believed deep down.

This album begins to encapsulate the independent artistry of Tina Turner. It shows that she was not only a musical interpreter that crossed genres, but one that can reach the furthest of human emotions in the same fell swoop. She takes country music, flips it on its head, reconstructs it, and sings it her way, but she was still under a jail cell.

Her later solo efforts were to be completely independent of Ike Turner in all regards. This album shows that all you need sometimes is to let someone shake their own tail-feather and to never restrict someone to be a private dancer. This artistry within Tina was nearly untapped and it was time for the world to hear it.

It was time for Tina to be Tina.

Grandma, Tell Me About The Good Ol’Days

“He [Doolittle Lynn] said every one of ’em was a hit…..shoot it was a hit and miss.”

This quote comes from the beginning of Loretta Lynn’s new album, Full Circle, from the Coal Miner’s Daughter herself. She claimed her husband (Doolittle Lynn) insisted every song she ever wrote was a hit. Loretta didn’t agree.

But everybody can be wrong sometimes.

Lynn and her late husband Doolittle.

Lynn and her late husband Doolittle.

It has been over 10 years since Lynn has released an album of new material. Her last album, Van Lear Rose, was released in 2004. It was produced by Jack White and had great commercial and critical success. It is one of her most profound works, but her fans and the country music crowd are not writing Lynn off any time soon. Her new album is met with anticipation and excitement.

As a long time Lynn devotee I was counting down the days since she first confirmed she would be releasing a new album. I have nearly every album Lynn has made (I am only missing 1!). I’ve seen her in concert and have spent hundreds of dollars on memorabilia. Once the release date came I contacted my local record store to see if they received this new gem on vinyl.

They immediately put it behind the counter for me to come purchase. They have lived with me through my Lynn pilgrimage. This is serious business.

I rushed home once I purchased this record and immediately put it on my turntable. It’s safe to say it was love at first spin.

The album opens with a conversation between Lynn and what I assume is her producers John Carter Cash (Johnny Cash and June Carter’s son) and Patsy Lynn Russell (Lynn’s Daughter), and various studio musicians. She easily recalls the first song she ever wrote, “Whispering Sea” taking the listener back to the beginning of her career. She then opens this album with a modern version of “Whispering Sea.”

74282205-x600It has been 56 years since Lynn first recorded this song. It was the B side to her first single “Honky Tonk Girl.” I went back and listened to the orignal recording to compare it to her new version. Both versions are excellent in both composition and deliverance. The first version portrays a naive and vulnerable spirit whereas today’s version has elements of maturity, grace, and wisdom. It’s profound what happened here and to think this was the first song! This same element is heard in her remakes of “Everybody Want’s to Go to Heaven” and “Fist City.”

The album proceeds into a new composition, “Secret Love.” This song sounds like it could be off of her first album. She then sings a song entitled “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” This is a simple answer, everybody. Lynn was one of the primary writers of this song and the listener is once again met with a tone and deliverance that sounds so fresh it could come from one of her first albums, yet it shows the continued humility Lynn possess. This is what I believe has sustained her in the music industry and what has fueled her staying power.

The answer to the question this song asks “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” is a hard one to answer. Lynn will have listeners from the past, present, and future miss her. Her music is immortal and her wisdom is timeless. So whos gonna miss her? It will forever be impossible to answer.

Next we are met with a story song, “Black Jack David.” There are three chief story tellers in country music, Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Reba McEntire. All three tell their stories differently, but each one makes you live their tale. Wrapping up Side A is Lynn’s version of the classic song, “Always on My Mind.” Lynn gives a rousing performance that I feel reminiscences on her life. It reminds me of her late husband and her children and the love she has for her entire family. That’s who she talks to in her spiritual and encompassing performance of this classic ballad.

Loretta_Lynn_022_V2Side B contains the new tunes, “Wine Into Water,” the spiritual “In The Pines,” and “Band of Gold.” These again sound as fresh as Lynn’s first recordings, but they encompass that same wisdom to her listeners. The greatest takeaways from Side B are her duets with Elvis Costello and Willie Nelson.

First, she duets with Elvis Costello on “Everything it Takes.” This is your classic country song talking of love lost to another woman. It is a lecture to her man about how his new woman will “take everything he’s got.” This track that could be easily taken from her 1966 album, You Ain’t Woman Enough.

Lastly, she duets with her fellow country legend, Willie Nelson on “Lay Me Down.” This song is classic gold. This song talks about the contentment both performers feel in the life they have led. There’s a sense of spirit and deftness this song brings to the listener that I have never felt before. Both singer’s vocals easily glide over the melody with confidence and breadth. This is a piece of country gold from some of the last real country survivors. This songs a treasure chest that you get something new out of with each listen.

To be honest, I was expecting something amazing with this album, but I was not expecting it to place me in a musical trance. This album completely takes over your spirit as you travel through it. It is full of emotions, strife, triumph, strength, and accomplishment, but the most important quality this album exemplifies is wisdom.

loretta-lynn-full-circle-cover-413x413This album is your mom, grandmother, or mentor simply sitting in their chair telling you of their life and what they have done. They tell you all about the good times and they never shy away from giving advice, yet they don’t shield you from the downtimes. This album is simply life as narrated by Loretta Lynn.The title of the album, Full Circle, describes the journey these songs take you on while visiting old habits and discovering new gems.

This is just the first album of nearly 96 new recordings Lynn has made. It is dubbed as “Volume One of The Cash Cabin Recordings.” I am already eagerly awaiting volume 2. It’s just the story the Judds told us about grandpa, but now it’s grandma’s turn. Grandma’s are the sale of the earth and this grandma has just begun talking.

And as we all know, you never tell Grandma to hush unless you want to go to fist city.

Dolly Parton, “New Harvest…First Gathering:” Live Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a bittersweet holiday for me. At one time I had a tight-knit family that willfully and joyously spent the day together. Unfortunately, that family has dispersed and disappeared. Cousins start having their own kids, grandparents start going downhill, and bonds break. Sadly nobody has acknowledged what has been left behind.

I have come to a realization in my life that Thanksgiving is more than just turkey, stuffing, and Grandma’s peach cobbler. Instead I am chosing this time to focus on the life I live. It’s easy to ignore the good things in life, things we should thank God for everyday.

600x600srThe other night I came home and was extremely angry and upset. It’s never easy fighting with someone you are close with. So I did what I always do, I threw on a record. I’m not sure what prompted my choice, but I decided to give Dolly Parton’s 1977 album, New Harvest-First Gathering a spin.

The album opens with “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.” This was the only single from this album and it climbed its way to eleven on the Hot Country Charts. The message of this song immediately impacted my emotions. Parton sings, “Cause I can see the light of a clear blue morning. I can see the light of a brand new day….It’s gonna be ok.”

The lyrics resonated with my exact situation and how I was feeling. Parton showed me that there was still tomorrow and she assured me through her brisk and sweet, yet potent voice, that it was all going to be ok, even if I could not see it now. With its gospel infringed instrumentation and backing vocals, this song is nothing but inspiring.

Following this hit comes “Applejack.” A classic Parton story tune where she tells stories of a man who was once called Applejack. He also happened to make the best applejack in town, but he could play the banjo too. We all know Parton can’t give good strumming of a banjo. The song ends with her remembrance of good ol’Applejack and how she is thankful for the lessons she learned on his porch. I cannot count the number of people who fit this exact impact Parton speaks of in my life.

Dolly-Parton-1970s-4Parton then gives Motown a twist with Smokey Robinson’s “My Girl.” She changes the
lyrics to “my love” while giving this song a complete new image. She sings this song almost as a whisper which chimes of her own story and romance. Parton’s husband is much more reclusive then Parton, and there is barely ever a sighting of him. She has a quiet, but strong love, and she doesn’t need to scream that into the world to validate what she has. She was simply contemplating her thanks.

She ends side A with a ballad she wrote both the music and words to, “You Are.” She expressed her love for her husband by stated that he is her inspiration, what makes her happy, and everything she would ever want. If you take this song and mix it with “My Love,” I am convinced that if clouds could sing this is what they would sound like. Her voice is heavenly.

She opens side B with “How Does it Feel.” I was expecting a heart wrenching break up Parton song that she can so generously write, but instead she simply had one question. How does it feel knowing that there’s someone who loves you? It made me think and identify those I am thankful for in my life.

This song is followed by “Where Beauty Lies in Memory.” The song tells the story of a woman that remembers her life as it once was in which Parton concludes “When beauty lives in memory, it lives forevermore.” That’s where my Thanksgiving is. My memories will always live in my mind. I have just not decided exactly what to do with them yet.

Parton then turns “(Your Love Is Taking Me Higher) Higher and Higher,” a number one for Jackie Wilson in 1967, into a gospel medley that you can see any choir swaying to. A good song never dies and ten years later when this album was made, it was resurrected into a new being. This sentiment ties right into Parton’s closing song “There.”

b7569341a49066f8b4179e8af8f97b17“There” is a song of hope that ensures us of a clear blue morning. She sings of what is to become when push comes to shove, when weapons are set down, and peace is resonated among God’s people. She wants to be taken where “lambs lie with lions,” “the meadows grow greener,” and “where there is complete love.” She incases this in a powerful composition that will leave you in goosebumps. The song’s beginnings are chilling, but you can’t utter any other word but Hallelujah when it ends.

She gives the message everybody wants to hear and be a part of, an eternity of love. There is no damnation in her voice; she is simply reminding everybody of God’s promise of eternal life and love.

So in the end there is no need for Thanksgiving, or this time of year, to be bittersweet for me. I am thankful for the memories I have, the people who have impacted my life, and a God that promises me eternal love. I will eventually live a life of Thanksgiving with Him, but for now I must make the best of it on this earth.

It amazes me that Parton nearly wrote the lyrics and music to every song on this album. This record is a testament of her love for family, friends, and Savior. For me it was not just a collection of tunes, it was a reminder.

A reminder of blessings and a God of love that has a place for me. I will see the light of a clear blue morning. I will remember all the blessings in my life and give thanks for what was then and now. I will be taken there.

This album also reminded me that everybody needs to listen to a Dolly Parton album every now and then. I highly suggest it. It’s rejuvenating. As I approach this Thanksgiving, I plan to live it, and I am prepared for a new harvest and who knows what its first gathering will provide.

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Thanks Dolly.

 

A Playlist for Your Labor Day

Here we are! Another year has almost come and gone and now we can no longer wear white. Labor Day is the signal of great things to come and that statement does come with a hint of sarcasm.

Labor Day was created in 1887 after the Central Labor Union and Knights of Labor had their first parade, or strike if you will, in New York City. President Grover Cleveland signed it into law declaring the first Monday of every September Labor Day. I guess back then one day was enough,  but couldn’t we have at least gone for a week?

Nonetheless, for your listening pleasure, I have collecting some labor songs to commemorate this monumental day.

“She Works Hard for the Money,” Donna Summer, 1983 

Everybody loves this disco and dance infringed number Donna Summer so graciously gave us in the early 1980’s. This song reached number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was later nominated for a Grammy. Inspired by real events, Summer wrote the song after talking with a restroom attendant in Los Angeles.

“9 to 5”, Dolly Parton, 1980

There isn’t a better way then to start your day then with a cup of ambition. Parton released this pop infused tune as a companion to her movie of the same title starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. Has there been a song that commemorates a working person better than “9 to 5?” I think not. Once I hear the opening of this song and its piano infringed riff, there is no stopping me. I’ll belt this song at the top of my lungs till it’s over….and then start it again.

“Take This Job and Shove It,” Johnny Paycheck, 1977

This song was originally written by David Allen Coe, but eventually fell in the lap of Johnny Paycheck. This song peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Hot Country charts. As “9 to 5” explains getting ready for the grind, this song aptly explains one’s attitude once 5 rolls around. Another interesting fact about this song, it was produced by the late and legendary Billy Sherrill.

“A Hard Day’s Night,” The Beatles, 1964

We can’t forget about the bit of romance there is in working a job….or can we? This song hit number one in both the U.S. and U.K. and was also a companion piece to a movie of the same title. The song generally speaks of one who works all day so that his girl can have everything she wants. I just hope she has a job too. Nonetheless, it’s just one of the nice sentiments that the Beatles left us. I’m sure they’ll regret this when yesterday comes.

“Is There Life Out There,” Reba McEntire, 1992

Now when one initially hears this song, they don’t think of a hard day’s work, but I think we need to leave this list on an optimistic point. This song talks about a girl, both working in her personal and private life, wondering if it is all worth it. As Reba reminds us, there is life out there and endless potential. This song is just one of Reba’s 377 number 1 singles on the Hot Country charts.

That my friends is what you can all enjoy on this fine Labor Day Monday. Sometimes working is a joy, sometimes it’s rough, but it is always worth it in the end. We may always work hard for the money, and it often takes us 9 to 5, but we can’t ever truly just take the job and shove it. Remember after a hard day’s night there is always life out there…..

And a paycheck.

A Not So Obvious Rose

Last weekend I went by one of my favorite vinyl spots, Trolley Stop, to dig for some Jody Miller albums. The owner, John, let me go to his back storage where he has multiple boxes of classic country lps. I was successful in finding many Millers, but I also came across an artist I don’t see often, Rose Maddox.

806a4aac7022870e4ada31adb4cd65f2The career of Maddox is largely a mystery to me and a lot of her career still remains this way. I knew she had hit songs, yet I couldn’t name them. I mostly heard her name when she had been cited as an influence to many greats like Dolly Parton, Kitty Wells, Wanda Jackson, and Emmylou Harris. So there has to be something about this lady.

My limited research foretold that Maddox started her career with her brothers, Fred, Cal, Cliff, Henry (after Cliff’s death in 1949), and Don. They performed what I would classify as “rhythmic country.” The music they performed ranged from bluegrass to classic country and a bit of early rockabilly. The band eventually dismembered and Rose set out on a solo career.

The album I found was 1961’s, A Bouquet of Roses. This album contains her top 20 hit, “Conscience, I’m Guilty.” It’s a mix of western swing and country. It contains the classic country and pop hit, “Lonely Street” and the rock and roll smash, “Jim Dandy.” The versatility of Maddox’s vocals are well on display in this bouquet.

My biggest take aways from this album are “Tall Men,” “Early in The Morning,” and “Read My Letter Once Again.” Maddox’s voice doesn’t flow over these tracks, it demands sentiment. She sings gently at times, yet she always has command. Her voice is a pillar of strength, portraying both a strong person with a gentle heart and one who isn’t to be messed with.

rosemaddoxFrom this album it is easy to see where the above mentioned singers found inspiration. Maddox was one of the first “flamboyant” western swing singers, wearing full rhinestoned, sequined, fringed, and ric-raced ensembles. Although her influence is obvious, she doesn’t receive the recognition she deserves. She should be mentioned with Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline, yet I discovered her in a dusty shed.

Many founders are rarely recognized for their complete impact, but the greatest country stars have cited Maddox as an influence. It seems that she didn’t seek the spotlight, it looked for her. Her legacy is cemented in those who are performing today. The stars of yesterday look at her as an influence and today’s stars look at them as their influences.

So in essence, she may not be an obvious rose, but she has received a lot of water through the years. Her vocal style, fashion, and pioneering performances are mimicked time and time again.

maddox_rose_1377187743274Her legacy and influence is apparent through her voice. She’s heard all the way
from Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” to Miranda Lamberts “My Little Red Wagon.” You see, Rose’s voice is as pretty and soft as a rose petal, yet she can cut you with her thorns if you do her wrong.

That is the essence of the female country singer. They are always pretty, yet never mess with them, they have thorns, shotguns, and skillets. Maddox has taught me that’s not something new. They have had it them for a while.

Who’s in Your Wreath?

I bought this album years ago. I’m pretty sure it was one of those golden thrift store finds, but I’ve always had one question.

How did Dolly, Kenny, and that reindeer fit in the same dern wreath?onceuponxmas_rogersdolly598

I guess that’s beside the point, but it is completely valid. This year I decided to bust out this vinyl and finally give it a good listen. I’m going to be honest, I love Dolly, but I have never been a fan of Kenny. So I went into this album knowing Dolly was going to save this album and in many ways she did, but I was pleasantenly surprised at how much I enjoyed Kenny’s solos.

The album opens with the Parton penned “I Believe in Santa Claus.” This is one of my favorite Christmas songs now. She speaks of how the belief in Santa can translate to hope in everyday life. Santa is for the grownups too. Her voice also glistens perfectly over Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.”

Rogers gave great renditions of “The Christmas Song” and “Silent Night,” but the real gems on this album is their duets. Another song written by Parton is the final song “Once Upon a Christmas.” The song tells the story of Jesus brilliantly over Roger’s story telling voice and Parton’s passionate vocals. Then they add in a choir and I’m gone. Beautiful.

0This record reminded me of why I like country music so much. In country music, or at least what used to be country music, it’s ok to say Jesus Christ. The songs are sung because they’re traditional and they don’t beat around the spiritual bush. They are not demanding you believe, they are just nice country folk who want you to experience what they do; hope and salvation through the birth of the world’s Savior, Jesus Christ.

So here I am not really excited for this Christmas, but Kenny and Dolly reminded me the reason for the season…..

and that there are awfully large wreaths out there.