Reviewed by Dave Brassington
For those who follow music made by Christians, Dolly Parton has always been an enigma. Ever since she first emerged, Christians have been both encouraged by her professions of faith and thrilled (when for instance she sang a heart-stopping version of Don Francisco's "He's Alive" at a Dove Awards ceremony) with some of her performances. But believers have also been bemused when Dolly starred in the movie The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas and when her music was featured in a film about a transsexual. Being a long-time fan of this country music icon I approached this documentary-with-music DVD with expectation though also with some puzzlement as to how the project could run for two hours yet be based around only six songs. As it turns out, Dolly has a lot to say. 'Song By Song' begins with an in-depth look at her classic (and my personal favourite) "Coat Of Many Colours", based as it is around the story of Joseph from the Bible and Dolly's own background of extreme Tennessee mountain poverty. "Jolene" then gets a more humourous account from the country superstar, before we have the incredible story of how Dolly originally wrote "I Will Always Love You". Dolly explains how the song reflects her painful parting from country star Porter Wagoner, with whom she had originally found fame in country music circles as she moved out of that rather restricted musical world to enter the pop and movie arenas. Dolly tells how Elvis Presley wanted to record the song, which had been a big country hit for her. But the deal offered by Elvis' grasping manager "Colonel" Tom Parker was that she surrender 50 per cent of the royalties. Dolly declined despite many thinking she was mad to refuse. "I Will Always Love You" subsequently went on to become one of the biggest-selling singles of all time when sung by Whitney Houston in the film The Bodyguard, proving that when it came to business, Dolly had her head firmly screwed on! Next on the DVD is the hilarious story of Dolly recording the theme song to her first ever film 9 To 5. The last two tracks are the real surprise. "It's All Wrong But It's All Right", Dolly Parton's seventh number one country single as a solo artist, is a "cheating" song with a lyric which to many Christians' minds is inappropriate material for a Christian to sing. The last track is the gospel song "Travellin' Thru" which Dolly wrote as the theme for the film Transamerica, about a man undergoing a sex change. To be honest, I had no idea of the controversy that this then generated, but throughout it all I think Dolly comes up with a very positive attitude, as she (correctly in my opinion) refuses to condemn people with gender issues, something which has got her into trouble with some Christians who believe she is encouraging wrong behavior. Throughout this long running DVD, Dolly comes across as someone who has always been willing to take risks, not needing other people's approval and the ability to go down unchartered roads, be they big musical changes, pursuing success in pop crossover music, acting in films, opening a theme park and providing millions of books for under-privileged children. Dolly has a deep belief that God is in control of her life and this comes through on this project. Final comment, for anybody interested in the life and music of one of country music's greatest stars this DVD is fascinating.
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