Those Were the Days
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A year in the making, the album of era-defining songs from the 1960s and 1970s is an astonishing collection of indispensable classics, performed in Dolly Parton's signature style with a top-notch list of friends. Parton, who produced the album, invited several of the artists who wrote or made these songs famous to sing with her. Renowned musicians Roger McGuinn (of The Byrds), Kris Kristofferson, Judy Collins, and Tommy James make appearances on Those Were The Days. She also asked recent chart-topping artists Norah Jones, Keith Urban, Nickel Creek, Lee Ann Womack, Rhonda Vincent, Joe Nichols, and Alison Krauss to join her in the studio. Sugar Hill. 2005.
Like 1996's Treasures, this covers collection by Dolly Parton might seem, on the surface, to be a gimmicky filler in her prestigious catalog of some of country's finest originals. Yet it's a vast improvement. Those Were the Days, largely bluegrass-inspired and featuring a plethora of famous duet and harmony partners, has more than a few sterling moments. And that's not just because songs like "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?," "Blowin' in the Wind," "Both Sides Now," and "Twelfth of Never" find her paired with the likes of Norah Jones, Lee Ann Womack, Nickel Creek, Judy Collins, and Keith Urban. If Parton takes John Lennon's "Imagine" too far over the top, she rescues Tommy James's overly processed "Crimson and Clover" from its original reverb hell, her understated banjo/Dobro/fiddle arrangement imbuing it with dignity. Other selections seem an obvious fit. "Me and Bobby McGee" (with a charmed Kris Kristofferson) resonates with longing and loss, while "If I Were a Carpenter," a duet with Joe Nichols, finds sensual heat smoldering above its solid musical underpinning. But the gem here is her rendering of "The Cruel War," on which Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski, and Mindy Smith add feathery harmony vocals to Parton's gossamer lead--a performance so authentically poignant and heartfelt as to melt an Arctic ice cap. No matter how this odd collection hits you, give the Cantilevered One credit for being brave enough to tackle it, as well as extra kudos for coaxing two very special guests into the studio--Parton's old partner and one-time nemesis Porter Wagoner on the title track, and Yusuf Islam, a.k.a. Cat Stevens, who plays acoustic guitar on his own "Where Do the Children Play." You just never know what the Wigged Wonder will do next. --Alanna Nash
Recommended Dolly Parton
Trio, with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt
The Grass Is Blue
The Essential Dolly Parton
Mission Chapel Memories 1971-1975
20 Greatest Hits, with Porter Wagoner
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Fast forward about forty-five years, and it's not an overstatement to say that Dolly belongs in the same class as such country icons as Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. When Dolly signed with Sugar Hill Records in 1999, she went back to her roots and released a series of bluegrass albums beginning with 1999's THE GRASS IS BLUE. (It's worth noting that her shift to bluegrass predated the "O Brother, Where Art Thou" phenomenon.)
This 2005 release, while not technically bluegrass, is an acoustic album featuring plenty of fiddle, banjo and mandolin. Also, don't be fooled into thinking this is duets album. There are plenty of guest turns--Keith Urban, Norah Jones, Roger McGuinn--but this is very definitely a Dolly Parton album.
Dolly's choice of songs will be familiar to Baby Boomers since all of these songs are from the Sixties except "Where Do the Children Play" (1970) and "Imagine" (1971). With most of these songs, Dolly includes the participation of the original artist.
"Those Were the Days" - A rousing version of this song with backing vocals including Mary Hopkin and Porter Wagoner.
"Blowin' in the Wind" - Nickel Creek add a bluegrass touch to this Dylan classic.
"Where Have All the Flowers Gone" - Norah Jones and Lee Ann Womack add backing vocals to this poignant reading of Pete Seeger's protest anthem.
"Twelfth of Never" - Keith Urban duets on this romping edition that first a hit for Johnny Mathis in 1957.
"Where Do the Children Play" - While Yusuf Islam appears on this recording, it is only on acoustic guitar.
"Me and Bobby McGee" - While most people associate this song with Janis Joplin, it was written by Kris Kristofferson, who provides backing vocals. Sam Bush plays mandolin on this track.
"Crimson and Clover" - Certainly the oddest choice for this collection, but with Tommy James playing electric guitar and Sam Bush on mandolin along with dobro and banjo, it is a fun take on this sixties classic.
"The Cruel War" - Popularized by Peter, Paul & Mary, this traditional song features Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski and Tony Rice. This is my favorite song of the entire album.
"Turn, Turn, Turn" - Roger McGuinn is featured on this remake of the Byrds' No. 1 hit.
"If I Were a Carpenter" - Joe Nichols duets with Dolly on a more upbeat version than the Bobby Darin hit version.
"Both Sides Now" - Judy Collins provides backing vocals on this energetic version of the Joni Mitchell-penned song.
"Imagine" - I had misgivings about this song's inclusion when I first saw it on the track listing. However, with the string arrangement, David Foster's piano and the vocal choir, it is a fitting close to the album. Even her additional lyrics at the end seem appropriate--"Just imagine a world, a world without sorrow/ Imagine the world, a bright tomorrow/ Imagine a world/ peace and love/ Now that's a world that I can dream of.....Imagine."
As Dolly states in the accompanying booklet about putting together this collection of songs that had an impact on her: "...I think it made for a very special event." I agree. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED [Running time - 44:08]