Dolly Parton, Backwoods Barbie

Chuck Eddy

By Chuck Eddy

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Don't be shocked if the statement-of-purpose title track of Dolly Parton's Backwoods Barbie winds up an instant karaoke classic for drag queens who opt to hear “backwoods” as “backwards.” We shouldn't judge her by all her hair and makeup, Dolly tells us, because “the way I look is just a county gal's idea of glam.”

Still sweeter than rock candy and larger than life, after all these years.

That's only the best joke on this impressively well-crafted collection, a self-released free-agent move billed as the ageless icon's first pop-country album in ages. Second best joke, maybe: “I'm not the Dalai Lama” (get it?) as part of a positive-mental-attitude lesson for overweight and/or underpaid girlfriends. The Fine Young Cannibals cover, unabashedly new-wave-synthed until its hoedown finale, is cute too. As is the punchline of Dolly's joyfully un-obscene back-atcha to a conceited Mr. Big Stuff who “don't know love from Shinola”: “you'll be [beep!] out of luck.”

Dolly's “Tracks of My Tears” rivals Ronstadt's if not Robinson's, and her “pop-country” here is mostly the stuff of ’70s d-i-v-o-r-c-e laments, from the brittle tearjerker “Made of Stone” to songs connecting fragrant flowers and fragrant makeup with breakups. There's also relaxed jazz-piano Western Swing, an artsily psychedelic thrum undulating between Appalachia and the Middle East and uplifting gospel-pop about keeping your feet on the ground. And towering over it all, there's Dolly — still sweeter than rock candy and larger than life, after all these years.