For my generation, Dolly Parton has always been implants first, country singer second. I have always lumped Dolly in with people of deleterious “life story” fame, in which someone’s renown may be sparked by some respectable act or career, but is ultimately carried on from inertia through a series of trivial misdemeanors. For me, Dolly Parton was known more for being number 87 on E!’s list of Most Starlicious Makeovers. I’m not very proud of that fact, but that’s just how things panned out.
The first thing that Parton’s newest album, Better Day, does to those like me is to make them feel sorry for ever thinking that she hasn’t deserved all this attention over the years. Pretty much everyone knows who Dolly Parton is, but you may be surprised to find that she has released seven albums in the past decade. Certainly, this shows she’s been keeping busy just like any other legitimate musician, but what Better Day also makes clear is that Parton doesn’t just phone in her performances or fill in space with hokey covers. First and best track “In the Meantime” is an original celebration of the here and now. “You know people been talkin’ ‘bout the end of time / Ever since time began,” she sings. “We’ve been living in the last days ever since the first days / Ever since the dawn of man.” The track’s message is a nice sentiment, considering the curmudgeon-like dispositions of Parton’s peers (Just ask Merle Haggard what he thinks of all these kids with their loose pants and their hippity hoppity). However, it is also tuneful, because Parton’s excitement is genuine, and her glee is quite catchy.
Admittedly, though, much of Better Day succumbs to the many cliché’s that tend to produce bland, corporate country. However, the album is wholly reliable, because Parton’s voice remains a strident marker through the songwriting highs and lows. At the age of 65, Parton has a voice that is remarkably distinct and versatile. Her high yelps and peppy demeanor on tracks like “Just Leaving” and “Country Is as Country Does” are both professional and youthful. They are reason alone to listen to every one of album’s tracks, even if some of their instrumentations are made up of little more than dull, Taylor Swift-like power chords romps. Regardless, Better Day is a solid release, if only in Parton exhibiting her still-unabashed personality. To longtime Parton fans, the album will feel like business as usual.