Dolly Parton may be the world’s most iconic living country star, but she ran into the same radio shutout as most other veteran acts. So about a decade ago she ditched the glossy country-pop singles and embarked on a series of bluegrass and acoustic albums. That move restored her cred among country purists, though it also felt a bit constricting for such an outsize entertainer. Now, with the unabashedly commercial Backwoods Barbie, she’s paddling back toward the mainstream.
There’s a nice middle ground here between her crossover ambitions and mountain-mama classicism. Penning most of the material, she offers radio-friendly pep talks (in ”Better Get to Livin’,” she declares, ”I’m not the Dalai Lama, but I’ll try to offer up a few words of advice”) and ’70s-style adultery laments (”She’ll know you’ve been with me alone, and I’m a scent you can’t take home,” she croons in ”Cologne”). Parton even makes a fiddle-riddled cover of Fine Young Cannibals’ ”She Drives Me Crazy” her own: It starts off Shania-esque, then ends in a double-time hoedown.
As her own co-producer, Parton succumbs to some ’80s and ’90s sonic datedness; you want to tell those constantly swelling background singers to just take five. Nevertheless, Backwoods neatly plays to her storyteller strengths, even as she openly hungers for hits. Are you gonna be the one to tell Dolly Parton she shouldn’t be big?
DOWNLOAD THIS: ”Shinola”