Backwoods Barbie Collector’s Edition
It makes perfect sense. In an age when the more fleet-footed musicians realize that they’ve got to get theirs because the record company’s marketing gurus couldn’t even give records away via traditional channels, musicians have to cut their own deals to get art out in the public square. So we’re in a time now where artists are cutting deals with more unconventional retail outlets — AC/DC had the very successful distribution deal with Walmart, Prince a somewhat less successful one with Target, and now Dolly Parton with…. Cracker Barrel! Snigger all you want, but it’s a savvy move. Dolly knows her audience and she knows that they’re more likely to buy the physical album than mp3s, especially after they’ve been softened up by copious amounts of biscuits and gravy. But then Dolly’s been doing it for herself for a long time now. For the last few years, she’s been putting out material on her own label, Dolly Records. It made sense, she’d long sought total control of her musical destiny ever since breaking with Porter Wagoner in 1974; she wrote her own songs, produced her own albums, managed her own affairs — why not put her stuff out on the streets by herself, like the savviest rappers?
So she’s picked her newest album, the audacious Backwoods Barbie, added some bonus tracks for the Cracker Barrel masses, and here we are. It seems to be the most fully-realized Parton album in several years — down to the garish pink packaging with Dolly in all sorts of “aw shucks” sorta fish-out-of-water poses — pitchforking hay, “oh check out the glammed-out mudflaps on that truck,” etc! And with a sugary, glossy, Nashville sheen, she’s making a somewhat sideways grab at the brass ring once again. Unfortunately, the album itself is only passable. Parton’s voice is in incredible form for her age — only George Jones’ has mellowed as well — and she still has incredible joi de vivre in her work, throwing herself into every chord change and cornpone lyric with teenage gusto, but the material isn’t up to the standard of classic albums like Coat of Many Colors or Bargain Store. “Backwoods Barbie,” also used in Parton’s recent musical version of breakthrough film 9-to-5, is a likeable enough number — autobiographical and yet myth-making enough to be the equivalent of Iron Maiden’s “Iron Maiden.” Elsewhere, she does a bluegrassy, bizarro cover of Fine Young Cannibals’ “Drive Me Crazy,” the cod-gospel of “Jesus and Gravity,” and the post-feminist rugged individualism of “Better Get To Living” (though she’s fairly well hectoring her poor sad sack of a friend); overall the album just isn’t strong enough or distinctive enough. Diehard fans will pick it up, though casual listeners would be better off picking out the recent Legacy reissues of Jolene or Coat of Many Colors.
Dolly Parton: www.dollyparton.com