april 2009

Dolly Parton
RCA Nashville/LEGACY

Reissued to coincide with the April opening of the Broadway musical version of 9 to 5, this 1988 album was pretty much dwarfed by the chart topping (pop and country both), Grammy winning ubiquity of its title track theme song to the like-named movie starring Dolly (in her first film role), Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as secretaries in revolt against a misogynist boss (played with oleaginous flair by the reliable Dabney Coleman). At the time, Parton was in the midst of her run at pop stardom, and, typical of the records she made during that stretch, was teamed in the studio with pop, rock and country musicians (including Larry Knechtel on piano, Lenny Castro on percussion, and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter on guitar). Produced by Mike Post, known more for his memorable Grammy- and Emmy-winning TV show themes (the Law & Order franchise, Hill Street Blues, The Rockford Files, NYPD Blue, et al.) than for his expertise behind the board, 9 to 5 features some overblown, clunky arrangements suitable for TV themes, perhaps, but not particularly flattering to the singer—the synth-fueled thump and melodramatic backing choir on "The House Of the Rising Sun" rob the song of its tension and won't have anyone dumping their Animals version any time soon, and the glossy pop treatment given "Song For the Common Man" undercuts the serious theme Dolly explores in her well-crafted lyrics. It does have, however, several endearing moments that make it an interesting artifact of Dolly's '80s catalogue.

For starters, Dolly's original songs and her selection of covers address stories of the working class struggling to get a leg up on the economic ladder, plus some respect along the way. "9 to 5" falls into that category, and another rock-style proclamation, "Working Girl," with a howling rock guitar and a stomping rhythm, sides with a mothers, single and married, trying to make it against tall odds in a man's world, and Dolly's assertive vocal sells it all the way. In the same vein the upbeat country of "Poor Folks Town" is the framework for a song reminiscent of Bill Anderson's "Po' Folks" in its celebration of personal values and family love as the coin of the realm in the absence of real money.

Two low-key covers find Dolly at her best, and will remind her fans of her early, vivid tales of her deep rural childhood: On Merle Travis's "Dark As a Dungeon," Dolly sings with delicate, deeply felt passion of the miner's hardscrabble life, her vocal supported by a quiet, fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a subtle deployment of strings as she reaches for the high, aching notes in the chorus; similarly, she handles Woody Guthrie's "Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)" with dignified simplicity, bringing to her reading restrained emotion that enhancees the song's poignant depiction of the migrant workers' drudgery and underscores the horror of the accident that claimed their lives. She's backed mostly by an electronic piano, with Post once again using a wash of strings discreetly at key emotional stops along the way. In and of itself, "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" ranks with the finest of Dolly's interpretive work, and Post's tasteful production does her and the song justice; not least of all, the straightforward contemporary country feel Post lends the Danny Dill-Mel Tillis classic, "Detroit City," suits the heartfelt desperation Dolly articulates in her vocal realization of the rootless, homesick auto worker, out of his element and out of hope, in a performance worthy of comparison to Bobby Bare's original 1963 masterpiece. Elsewhere, another #1 country tune jumped off the album, Mike Settle's "But You Know I Love You," a fine Dolly-style rendering of a love song originally cut in 1969 by the Mike Post-produced Kenny Rogers & The First Edition.

Three bonus tracks are added to this Legacy edition: a take on Sly Stone's "Everyday People," though thematically compatible with the socially conscious album theme, is a bit over-eager in its frilly pop conceits—especially the Billy Joel "It's My Life" keyboards—and doesn't quite cut it; even Dolly sounds aloof from the tune, despite investing considerable energy into her singing. Closing out the album are two additional versions of "9 to 5"—an electronica gone wild "Love to Infinity Radio Mix," about which the less said the better, and a music-minus-Dolly "Karaoke Mix." In the end, the original album gets a little outside help it really doesn't need. —David McGee


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
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