Nov 042022
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

dolly parton covers

Dolly Parton is a singer and a songwriter. I mention that obvious truth because these days it tends to get overshadowed by her other titles: Icon. Inspiration. National Treasure. The Only Human Being Alive Everyone Agrees On (Radiolab produced an entire nine-part radio series based on that premise). And she is all those things, but first and foremost she’s a working 9-to-5 musician who has been perfecting her craft for seven decades.

Parton says she wrote her first song as a five year-old in 1952. She hasn’t stopped writing songs since. She one estimated she’s amassed 10,000. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the verifiable numbers speak for themselves: 52 studio albums, 25 Number One songs, 100 million records sold worldwide. Just as important a tribute to her gifts, though, are how often her songs get covered. Not just the obvious ones, the “Jolene”s and “I Will Always Love You”s (though plenty of those, lord knows), but the album cuts, the singles that didn’t top the charts, and the songs she didn’t write herself but made into Dolly Parton songs anyway.

Some of the below covers sound a little bit like Dolly’s own music. Most do not. She considers herself straight country, not, as she made clear when first nominated for the Rock Hall earlier this year, rock and roll. But, in this list, she is rock and roll. And folk and pop and hip-hop and soul and a whole host of other genres. Dolly Parton may indeed be the only human being everyone agrees on. What a way to make a living.

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Aug 272021
 

Teddy JenniUnless you haven’t been paying attention, you will already know this is a follow-up, the second EP in a series of three, by the music royalty pair, each addressing and celebrating the works of great country duet pairings. We dealt with the first volume …Do Porter & Dolly here, then hedging a bet it would be followed. And is there a better known C&W pairing than that of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, almost as well-known for their life offstage as for the songs they made together?

George Jones was one of country music’s biggest stars, perhaps the biggest. Whenever Johnny Cash was asked who his favorite was, his response always began, “You mean, besides George Jones?” His tally of 160 singles in the country chart gives just some idea as to the hugeness of his appeal, dwarfing the attainment of other genre equivalents. His legacy that has lasted well beyond his 2013 death, unlike many of his contemporaries on the self-same rhinestoned stages of ’50s and ’60s Nashville. Present-day aficionados include Elvis Costello and Robert Plant, who once said, “I now have to listen to George Jones once a day. Amazing singer. What a singer.” All this despite never any lifetime crossover success, he was always strictly country.

Tammy Wynette was his wife between 1969 and 1975, and was already a star in her own right. The succession of joint album recordings they made continued long after they parted, six released during the marriage and three after the divorce, including their biggest seller, ironically, 1976’s Golden Ring. (Incidentally, Tammy’s two best known solo hits, “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.” and “Stand By Your Man” both came ahead of their marriage, so arguably each relate, in one way or another, to George’s effect upon her life.)

As with the last EP, David Mansfield is in charge, his magic hands on the production dials and much of the instrumentation. His love of the genre and of the period is obvious, managing to display the classicism of the songs and yet avoid most of the residual kitsch of the originals. A lower fat and less sugary re-envisioning that maintains all the goodness, but with a slightly more up-to-date taste. Some salt with the saccharine, then, tears with the honey, as befits the prevailing lyrical content.
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May 212021
 

Teddy & Jenni Do Porter & DollyIn times of trouble it is often to the sounds of comfort we retreat. We need those tunes of a bygone day that reflect happier times, especially if the songs are those of grief and heartbreak. Here we revisit the safe haven of country weepies, the duets of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, as performed by second generation music royalty, Teddy Thompson (son of Richard and Linda) and Jenni Muldaur (daughter of Geoff and Maria).

Teddy & Jenni Do Porter & Dolly is not markedly different in style than the recent trio of EPs by My Darling Clementine, beyond the age of the originals. The first of three announced tribute EPs by the duo, this one differs in that these are echoes rather than interpretations, and none the worse for that, if with a modern polish buffing up the 1960’s (and 70’s) productions.
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