Nov 042022

Go back to the beginning

20. Josh Weathers Band – I Will Always Love You

In some of his live performances, Weathers talks about how “I Will Always Love You” changed his life. In 2011 in Dallas at the Kessler Theatre, he decided to perform a live cover of the song for his mother’s birthday. Somebody recorded it, and it went viral. “It’s taken me all over the world,” he’s said. Initially, the crowd are just enjoying it’s happening, laughing at his brief mocking quotes of other Bodyguard songs and wooing the opening. But then Weathers’ performance, with just a guitar and his voice – and he’s got the voice – is so good they (mostly) shut up. It’s slower than Dolly’s original, owing more to Whitney’s pacing, but it’s otherwise aesthetically closer to Dolly than Whitney. It’s impassioned, heartfelt, raw and everything that’s good about a musician playing a song they love from their childhood for the world. – Riley Haas

19. Kasey Chambers – Little Sparrow

As the 1990s turned in to the 2000s, Parton began to return to her musical roots. Her album Little Sparrow explored a number of styles that she had grown up with. The title track, a meditation on women wronged, was a folk/bluegrass song that featured an all-star band, including Jerry Douglas on resonator guitar, Chris Thile on mandolin, fiddler Stuart Duncan, and Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski on background vocals. Australian Kasey Chambers contributed a version of the song to the Just Because I’m a Woman tribute, and while it retains the bluegrass feel of the original, it edges a little more toward country-rock without losing any of the original’s world-weariness. – Jordan Becker

18. Johnny Cash – I’m a Drifter

In 1976, Dolly was on the cusp of her solo breakthrough, having spent many of her earlier years in a duo with Porter Wagoner, another in the list of classic paired purveyors of Nashville prime rhinestone fodder. Don’t get me wrong, often great songs, just presented and performed with as much glitz and kitsch as the Grand Ole Opry could muster. So Dolly saying “I’m a drifter” seemed unconvincing, even as her backstory of rural poverty was getting an airing. Now Johnny, for sure, his whole appearance and bluster entirely what was being said on the lid of Dolly’s tin. It helped too that this was at the end portion of his career, when gravitas, care of Rick Rubin, had kicked off any squeaky wheels remaining from his own country showbiz years. Cash actually cut two versions, with this one, version 2, capturing the grit of the lyric, mainly through to the rudimentary drums, that emphasize both the dobro and his grit’n’gravel voice. I’m convinced by his statement, even if the man in black could barely stand up unaided by this time. Which sort of nails it. – Seuras Og

17. Gordi – Grass Is Blue

Poetic and painful, silly and sad, “The Grass Is Blue” is as great a song about not coping as a means of coping as you’re ever gonna hear. Indie-pop singer-songwriter Gordi said she was inspired to record the title track from the 1999 Grammy-winning album for a couple of pretty convincing reasons, namely “because Dolly funded the Moderna vaccine and is an all-round queen.” In her cover, Gordi magically resculpts the bluegrass-pop ode into a somber and majestic piano ballad full of rain from the skies that’ll inspire rain from yer eyes. – Hope Silverman

16. Katy Perry & Kacey Musgraves – Here You Come Again

As one of Dolly’s biggest hits, you’d think that a cover of this track would be rather straightforward. Musically, this is true – the cover dials down the string section, and slightly slows the pace down, but leads the melody untouched. What makes this track special is the almost call-and-response style duet from Perry and Musgraves. When Dolly sings it, this is a one way argument against a lover, but with Perry and Musgraves, it’s now a tag-team argument, with friends confronting a lover that has spurned one of them (or perhaps both?). It’s light and breezy, and a perfect update to the seventies-sounding original. – Brendan Shanahan

15. Skeeter Davis – Just the Way I Am

Skeeter Sings Dolly was the first tribute album dedicated to Dolly Parton, who wrote in the liner notes how she was “touched beyond words” that Skeeter Davis would do such a thing; “In doing this album, she has paid me the greatest compliment anyone could ever pay a songwriter,” she wrote. “Fuel to the Fire” was the album’s big hit, but “Just the Way I Am” was a most worthy track as well. Parton’s lyrics were autobiographical, about what others might call her flighty personality, prone to laugh or cry or dance at the drop of a hat. Davis knows the song is imbued with Dolly’s spirit, and rather than override it, she rides it with a steady hand and presents it with true conviction. – Patrick Robbins

14. Lady Parts – 9 to 5

To understand the context of this cover, it would help to understand the premise of the TV show We Are Lady Parts. In this show, a group of Muslim women form a punk rock band. Drama ensues, the patriarchy is smashed. As part of their journey, the band performs this cover to a hostile audience, giving the crowd something they know while showing the doubters who they really are as a band. The restrained rebellion of the original gets unleashed in this cover. The recognizable bass line starts the song off, but from there the yelled lyrics, electric guitar, and drums stake their claim on the bandmates’ dreams that haters will never take away. – Sara Stoudt

13. Lingua Ignota – Jolene

A passionate song to begin with, this cover ups the ante. Accompanied by a flowing piano that clearly has the player’s whole body going into the key presses, strident singing transitions to spoken pleas in moments that break with emotion. Part operatic, part raw screams, the repeated requests to Jolene finally run out of steam, and the song ends on a deep, solemn, and final note. – Sara Stoudt

12. Joan Shelley ft. Bonnie “Prince” Billy – The Bridge

Dolly Parton wrote this heartbreaking song about a pregnant young woman who commits suicide by jumping off a bridge where she and the baby’s father (who has abandoned her) had enjoyed themselves, when she was still in high school. She wrote it before Bobbie Gentry’s similarly-themed “Ode to Billy Joe,” but she didn’t release it until her 1968 album Just Because I'm A Woman, which had a number of songs about the role of women in society. It’s a somber country ballad that ends abruptly, jarringly, after the narrator announces her plan to jump.

Joan Shelley is a Kentucky singer whose influences certainly include Parton. In fact, in an interview with NPR in 2016, the interviewer asked Shelley about her own song, “My Only Trouble,” Shelley responded that she wanted to be like Parton and write a “song as simple and heart-piercing as” “The Bridge.” In 2018, Shelley released an EP of covers, Rivers and Vessels, to benefit the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, which included her simple and heart-piercing version of “The Bridge.” It’s a duet with Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and I don’t know if that choice was an attempt to include the baby’s father in the terrible situation or not, but it’s effective. As an aside, there’s an actual bridge in Alabama that is commonly known as the Dolly Parton Bridge. Not because of this song, but because the shape of bridge’s rounded arches reminded people of, well, you know. – Jordan Becker

11. John Doe – I Will Always Love You

There were two covers of “I Will Always Love You” in The Bodyguard. While everyone knows the Whitney Houston version, there’s another take on the song by John Doe. Primarily known as frontman for the punk band X, Doe sang the country version of the track that Houston and Kevin Costner danced to in a country bar. Within the universe of the film, it was this version that inspired Houston’s character to record it. Doe sings it as a slow-moving, country tearjerker. Though the track didn’t even make it onto the soundtrack album, it’s worthy of being more than a mere pop-culture footnote. – Curtis Zimmermann


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