Yes Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus.
How do I know? I'm reviewing The Acoustic Collection, that's how.
Just as she was about to topple permanently into poppy histrionics and Dollywood, Parton returned to her roots and, over the course of four years, released what have un-arguably become three watermark recordings in her long brilliant, though checkered, discography.
The Grass Is Blue the first of these invigorating discs, not only pulled Parton from the precipice, it blew new life into bluegrass, itself becoming a caricature as the 'hatboys' and 'pinup cowgirls', their handlers and accountants, figured how to bland it out for mass consumption, while lookin' real authentic for the paparazzi. Dolly hooked up with producer Steve Buckingham; brought in Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Barry Bales, Allison Krauss, Dan Timinski, and Stuart Duncan and got back to Louvin Brothers (Cash On The Barrelhead); Mr. Flatt (I'm Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open); The Man In Black (I Still Miss Someone); Billy Joel (a raucous Travelin' Prayer) some fine originals, the likes of which she hadn't penned in years (Endless Stream of Tears, Will He Be Waiting For Me) for a brilliant return. And though it is part of a grand trilogy, it stands as its own superior work.
2001's Little Sparrow leaned more on the heart-break songs and turned the heads of those who didn't notice The Grass Is Blue. More great originals - the melodically and lyrically pure title track , Down From Dover, the cute 'n poppy Marry Me, mix seamlessly with Steve Young's always poignant Seven Bridges Road, and an inventively reworked Shine and standard bearers , I Get A Kick Out Of You and the triumphant Celtic mourning of In The Sweet By and By created a lesser recognized, but no less visceral one-two punch as Cash's American Recordings or Dylan's Time Out Of Mind and Love and Theft.
Parton commandeers the producer's chair for 2002's more gospel-influenced and adventurous Halos and Horns. Loaded with superior musicianship (as were the previous discs) and her truly great songs Shattered Image, Dagger Through The Heart, What A Heartache, Raven Dove, If Only, Jack Daniel (a 30 year old original that had gone unrecorded) leaves you wondering if the woman will ever stumble. She does, on a lackluster take of Bread's If and a forced, almost contrived remake of Zeppelin's classic rock staple Stairway To Heaven, but it only proves the woman to be human, giving promise that her next journey to her roots will uncover even more humanity.
A bonus DVD accompanies this exemplary collection, with four videos (one a CMA duet with Norah Jones); five new song mixes and two performances from the Parton tribute, Just Because I'm A Woman featuring Kasey Chambers and Sinead O'Connor. A nice extra, but the real treat is music.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Website design by David N. Pyles