The name Dolly Parton calls up many varying roles, most of them almost cartoonishly theatrical: Backwoods Barbie, Doralee Rhodes, doyenne of Dollywood (which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year), godmother to Miley Cyrus and defender of Jessica Simpson, all-around legendary platinum blonde who admits cheerfully her look is completely fake. In terms of excessively over-the-top musical icons, she's rivaled pretty much only by Elvis Presley.
Given all of this, every time I listen to her (or Elvis's, for that matter) classic material, I find myself in the old paradox of being stunned anew by her crystal-clear, pure ability to directly grab a listener by the heart/throat/whatever emotional source she's going for. It's kind of hard to write about her and not drown in cliches.
That said, those who share this opinion of Dolly--and that's just about everyone, isn't it?--will be excited to learn that she's reissuing some of her best classic gospel recordings from early in her career. Back in 1971, Dolly put out an album of spirituals titled Golden Streets Of Glory, which included the standard "How Great Thou Art" plus nine other songs of faith. The tracklisting from this release, plus seven extra non-album tracks (one of them, "Would You Know Him," previously never before released) make up the new collection, titled Letter To Heaven: Songs Of Faith And Inspiration.
Country and gospel have always gone hand-in-hand; back in the day the two genres were on more of an equal footing with each other commercially, whereas today old-school gospel from the massive country greats who are far better known for their crossover pop hits sounds more punk rock than actual punk rock (well, the kind of punk that passes for "punk" nowadays, anyway). I can't think of a better showcase for Dolly's musical purity than a renewed spotlight on these good ol' fashioned songs of devotion. The record will hit the streets on May 4.
By the way, check out the album cover of Golden Streets Of Glory next to the new cover for Letter To Heaven--pretty cool rework of the original classic, eh?
On another note, Miley Cyrus, who recently was in the hot seat for giving a negative review of today's country music scene, might take a hint from her godmother's example. I'd love to see her take on some Southern gospel--and I bet she'd rather be good at it--what do you guys think?
As always, be sure to:
- Doralee Rhodes