“Grindstones and rhinestones, that made up my life,” Dolly Parton writes on the driving “The Sacrifice,” a dobro-laced song about work ethic and commitment, “but I’ve shined like a diamond through sacrifice.”
With things being tough all over, count on Dolly Parton to grab a handful of sparkle and let it shine. After a serious foray into rootsgrass, the undisputed heavyweight champ of modern country returns to the mainstream with a collection that reflects her unsinkable tenacity and charm.
Downhome but polished, Parton and producer Kent Wells create an often pop-country gem that empowers as it punches country radio’s clichés with a freshness that says “real country is more engaging than warmed over AC and AOR with fiddles on it.”
With a harmonica blast and a chugging beat, Parton takes on the notion of hysteria over end-times, advising to bask in the glory of now on “In The Meantime.” That gospel undertone and practicality permeates Better Day, whose languid blues-tinged title track is threaded with fiddle and stride piano, as well as the dobro/fiddle-steeped article of perseverance through faith “Just Leaving”
Pragmaticism never sounded so plucky—or fun. When Parton gets practical, refusing to buckle and finding her inner strength on “Shine Like The Sun,” country girls thrive, not just survive.
Indeed, the survival in those songs bleeds over to romance. It’s there in the done and over “Get Out and Stay Out,” her silvery soprano swooping and trilling the truth finally seen, and in the recognition of what can be—delivered with thick harmonies—giving encouragement to the faltering on “Let Love Grow.” Love has always been a fertile subject for Parton. She melodically evokes “I Will Always Love You” on the whispered verses of “Holding Everything,” then bursts into the exuberance love can conjure on “Together You and I,” demonstrating it’s not just the bawdy Mae West persona that’s made Parton an enduring sex symbol, it’s also her ability to purr, coo and express desire so directly and invitingly.The highlight is “Somebody’s Missing You,” a vintage jukebox weeper with harmonies from Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris. Feathery and teary, with mandolin flourishes and dollops of dobro, the raw ache of lonely is everything people turn to country music for.
The definitive notion of country is Parton’s domain. On “Country Is As Country Does,” she juxtaposes superstardom with her down-home comfort zone, showing country is attitude, not address—going so far as declaring, “I’m quite content with who I am/ And if you ain’t, well, kiss my ham.” Only Parton could suggest you kiss her salt-cured haunch. That’s the mark of an ironic iconic who understands hard times are only tough if you think so.