Coat of Many Colors
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2007, Volume 14, #4
Written by John Metzger
Like any artist whose career has been more than a flash in the pan, Dolly Parton has seen the publicís interest in her music wax and wane for decades. Between her trilogy of bluegrass-oriented endeavors (The Grass Is Blue, Little Sparrow, and Halos & Horns) and her Academy Award-nominated contribution to the film TransAmerica (Traveliní Thru), however, Partonís star recently has regained some of the luster that it had lost while she was busy chasing celebrity fame instead of critical acclaim. Therefore, now is as good a time as any to revisit some of the material that shaped her country music legacy.
In that regard, there undoubtedly is no better place to start than Coat of Many Colors, Partonís classic outing from 1971, which recently was remastered and reissued with an assortment of equally worthy bonus material. Although she hardly could be considered a newcomer when she began working on the endeavor, Parton had not yet had the opportunity to highlight her talents fully. Despite a slew of recordings, she remained best-known as Porter Wagonerís duet partner and a mainstay of his television program, but she was itching to escape from the "dumb blonde" routine into which she had fallen.
Fueled by her ambitions, Parton poured everything she had into Coat of Many Colors, and the result was a dark, desolate, yet ultimately optimistic portrait that spoke, both directly and indirectly, not only to her current situation but also to her upbringing. Thirty-six years after its release, the music ó which is a basic blend of hard country, pastoral folk, and í60s rock ó sounds slightly dated. Nevertheless, the set remains powerful because of the sharp maturity of Partonís writing as well as the emotive yet plainspoken mannerisms of her delivery.
The title track, which opens Coat of Many Colors, touchingly conveys the essence of her poverty-stricken childhood. Within the span of three minutes, she allows the warm, familial love of her mother to clash with the schoolyard cruelty that she endured, and she explains how a Biblical tale helped her to find strength and dignity in times of distress. Elsewhere, she sings of loose women (She Never Met a Man [She Didnít Like]) and accepting God (a cover of Porter Wagonerís The Mystery of The Mystery). Traveling Man is as much about the hope of escape as it is about mamas who steal their daughtersí boyfriends, and on If I Lose My Mind, another tune that was penned by Wagoner, she chillingly portrays the psychic scars left by the degrading abuse of her sexually controlling husband. So brave, bold, and emotionally pure were her musings that Coat of Many Colors firmly remains the artistic pinnacle of her career.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box