Reviewed by Dave Brassington
Wow, where to start with this? In simple terms you have four long-running CDs with, in total, 99 tracks and a profusely illustrated and well written booklet. It is a grand overview ranging from the very first recordings of 13-year-old Dolly Rebecca on an obscure Louisiana label, to her later Columbia recordings in the mid-1990s. The truth is that Dolly's career has been one of continuous risk taking, exploring all sorts of new directions, almost following an instinct which, by and large, dwarf most other artists' careers! Underlying all this is a spirituality, which some critics have called 'A Dolly religion'! By and large, she has managed to keep her feet firmly on the ground and certainly has avoided many of the pitfalls experienced by other artists. To begin with, the first few tracks need explaining. "Puppy Love" by 13-year-old Dolly is truly awful, and then we get some early Mercury tracks I had not heard before, which are no more than Brenda Lee pop-type tracks, before we hear some of her Monument recordings, where owner Fred Foster signed her as he alone in Nashville thought she was a unique talent. But he wanted her as a pop singer and Dolly had to plead with him to record the country music she had grown up with in blinding poverty in East Tennessee. It's nice to get the Bill Phillips version of the song she wrote, "Put It Off Until Tomorrow", an important stepping stone for her career as it raised her profile as a serious songwriter amongst the Nashville establishment. I really had no idea she also sang on this with Bill. "Dumb Blonde" (which she didn't write!) was her first solo country hit, and thereafter the rest, as they say, is history. The first two CDs contain a selection of the many duet recordings she made with her boss man at the time, Porter Wagoner, ranging from their first hit, Tom Paxton's "The Last Thing On My Mind", to two of my own personal favourites written by Dolly: Jeannie's "Afraid Of The Dark" and the gospel-tinged "Daddy Was An Old Time Preacher Man". The rest of these two CDs are all mainly produced by Porter right up to their less than amicable parting highlighted by Dolly's classic "I Will Always Love You" (happily they did reconcile many years later). CDs three and four accurately chronicle Dolly's move away from mainstream country into a pop/crossover era where she achieved some big selling records. Despite some fierce criticism at the time from die-hard country fans, it has to be said she still managed to retain many of her hardcore country fans, who in the last decade or so (not chronicled here) must have been more than delighted to find her once more changing music direction, returning to her acoustic country roots and once again finding commercial and critical success, right up to 2014, a fabulously successful year with her best-selling 'Blue Smoke' tour and CD including a rapturously received performance at the Glastonbury Music Festival. There are simply too many great tracks to list, but just a few to highlight: The classic "Coat Of Many Colours", "Jolene", "9 To 5", "Applejack", "Islands In The Stream" with Kenny Rogers, and a stunning version of the Don Francisco gospel classic "He's Alive" which she has often featured as her encore number in recent live tours. There are a fair number of gospel tracks, including the original version of the lovely "God's Colouring Book" to the much later "Silver And Gold" written by the late, great Carl Perkins and two of his sons. As someone who possesses a huge number of Dolly's recordings, I was pleasantly surprised to find a few tracks that had never been issued by RCA. I also did not know that we had Kevin Costner to thank for suggesting to Whitney Houston during the making of The Bodyguard film that Dolly's "I Will Always Love You" would make a good movie song. It remains one of the best-selling records of all time, netting Dolly a cool six million dollars in royalties. To sum up, this is a simply staggering release, even a long-time Dolly fan like myself found much new to enjoy, and for anybody who has only just discovered this wonderful artist, worth every penny!
The opinions expressed in this article are
not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed
views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may
not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a
Interested in reviewing music? Find out