First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2007, Volume 14, #7
Written by John Metzger
Sun July 8, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
In the liner notes to Coat of Many Colors, while telling the story behind the title track, Dolly Parton referred to herself as "sensitive," and her awareness, not only of her own feelings but also of those whom she loves, is what drove the formation of the material on Jolene. Indisputably, Porter Wagoner had played a huge role in launching Partonís career, but his unwavering, iron-fisted domination over her public life had become too stifling for her to endure. Jolene was centered around I Will Always Love You, a song that became a chart-topping single for Parton and an even bigger hit for Whitney Houston. Although it was the only tune on the endeavor that directly addressed Partonís decision to leave Wagoner behind, the fragile, aching sadness that clung to her tenderhearted goodbye expressed the difficulty of her decision. Her honest, emotional delivery, along with the stunning interpretation of Wagonerís Lonely Cominí Down that appeared later in the set, allowed its subject matter to inform the rest of the cuts on the outing, turning them from simple love songs into loosely knit metaphors for the dissolution of the duoís relationship.
The problem with Jolene, however, is that even with this broader interpretation, several of its songs feel slight. Partonís pledges of devotion (Highlight of My Life and Randy) are particularly egregious, and although her bubbly personality carries them, they truly are nothing more than fluffy filler. On the other hand, the title track, which tells the tale of a housewife who confronts her husbandís mistress, is one of the finest compositions that Parton ever penned. Its stripped down but insistent arrangement perfectly enhances the tension in her dramatic story. Likewise, on When Someone Wants to Leave and Living on Memories of You, she alternately ruminates upon a dying love affair and one that continues to haunt her long after it has ended. Two of the bonus tracks featured on the recently reissued rendition of Jolene ó Another Womanís Man and Barbara on Your Mind ó are worthy additions in that they similarly revolve around broken relationships, examining them from different angles with heartfelt empathy. Itís here, in these tunes, that Jolene comes alive; and itís here that Parton cemented her reputation as a first-rate performer and top-notch songwriter. Ĺ
Jolene is available from Barnes & Noble.
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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