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GAC Album Review: Dolly Parton’s Better Day

Dolly Parton's 2011 CD, Better Day. Photo courtesy of Dolly Records.

Dolly Parton is back with her first album – and 41st overall studio album – since 2008’s Backwoods Barbie. Armed with a legendary voice, knack for melody and the outlook of an eternal optimist, Better Day is an empowering collection that delivers on the mix of country, bluegrass and pop that Dolly’s made famous.

“Drop that doomsday attitude and get on with the show,” Dolly sings out on the album’s rootsy opener “In The Meantime.” Backed with acoustic guitars, harmonica and rising vocal lines, exciting twists and turns are around every corner as the song moves through its verse/chorus progression. Even with a quick splash of Southern Gospel thrown into the mix with help from bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent, the song is held together by smart melodies and a fun sense of adventure that supports Dolly’s message of living in the moment. This message is all throughout the album on tracks like the first single, “Together You And I.” The bright vocal harmonies and accompanying pedal steel line soaring through the chorus show off Dolly’s talent as a pop songsmith while she sings, “Together you and I can stop the rain and make the sun shine/ Paint a pretty rainbow brushed with love across the sky.” Dolly’s outlook has always been uplifting and she consistently finds the right words to express it. Here and on the bluegrass-tinged “Just Leaving,” The Isaacs add backing vocals while Dailey & Vincent also support on the positive country anthem “Country Is As Country Does.”

Dolly penned each one of the album’s 12 tracks solo except one, the traditional “Country Is As Country Does,” which she co-wrote with Mac Davis. Through steel guitar, mandolin and fiddle, Dolly lets it be known with a smile that, “I’m country-fied and I’m country fed/ And I’ll be that way ‘til I’m country dead.” Without proclaiming distaste for typically urban characteristics, Dolly lets it be known that she’s the same country girl no matter where she is or what she’s doing; whether she’s on a tractor, driving a Cadillac, flying “first class or plumb in the back.”

In a dream team of vocal harmony, Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss support Dolly with backing vocals on the slow burning ballad, “Somebody’s Missing You,” a true highlight of the collection.  “You’re even in my dreams and I can hardly wait/ To hear your voice again, saying the things you do/ In case you’re wondering, somebody’s missing you” the ladies sing in three-part harmony while Dolly comfortably eases into each new line.

Throughout the album, Dolly has no problem easing into varying styles all tied together through country, bluegrass and pop. While songs like the uptempo “Shine Like The Sun,” with slick production and a contemporary sound, embody concepts of “pop,” they do so without losing Dolly’s classic country foundation. It’s all about seizing the moment here, and with tight production, accessible melodies and expressive songs, Better Day accomplishes being an uplifting collection that celebrates today while managing to continue looking to an even brighter tomorrow.

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