After years of flailing and failing to crossover to pop, 1989 was the year Dolly decided to make her return to country music proper, with triumphant results. White Limozeen, produced by Ricky Skaggs, proved that Dolly’s strength as an artist is in how she adds a little pop to country – not the other way around. On the cover Dolly is all glitz, glamour and rhinestones still but the spelling of this album title is a deliberate nod to her simpler roots. Her fans responded with enthusiasm – the album generating two number one singles and resurrecting her critical and commercial career.
From the opening banjo strum you can’t help but sigh with relief. Dolly is home and the music sounds so damn good. She starts with a bluegrass cover of REO Speedwagon’s ‘Time for Me To Fly’ and it just sounds fantastic.
Yellow Roses is a classic country weepie and proves Dolly hasn’t lost her songwriting touch either. It would be her last solo number one country single signalling that her return home to county music would be tricky as time, and taste, hurtled onwards towards the 90s.
Then we’re straight into Why’d You Come In Here Looking Like That – a song with humour, sass, spark, a melody to die for. Dolly sounds like she’s having the best fun she’s had in a damn long time (and the video is still as riotously hilarious as ever). It’s only a surprise to me that she didn’t write this song, so perfect does it encapsulate everything that makes Dolly who she is. It was her first solo country number one in four years, albeit after a run of four top five singles from the Trio album.
Slow Healing Heart is beautiful and proves that traditional songs recorded with simple production just age so much better than trendy pop. Dolly has rarely sounded better vocally either. What Is It My Love also showcases the ability of Skaggs to bring a glossy polished sound to the production without losing any of Dolly’s personality. Lyrically it’s about the complexities of how to love someone flaws and all. You wonder if this one is about her marriage (it is the only other solo write from Dolly on the album).
There’s a nod to her wilderness years in the title track where she takes us with her to Hollywood, maybe trying to explain a little bit about how that country girl got lost in the shining lights of the city. She tries to convince us that despite everything she never lost her soul. Musically it’s the most poppy eighties sound on the album, with only a little twang in the guitars. The glitz and glamour are celebrated as an aspirational ideal – materialistic sure but this was the 80s after all.
Wait Til I Get You Home is an attempt at a sexy duet with Mac Davis. It’s cheesy and cringeworthy but considering what Dolly has been offering the listeners for the last few albums it’s listenable enough fluff.
Take Me Back to the Country returns Dolly back to one of her most consistent early themes: rejecting the bright lights of the city for the down home country life. This one was written by Karen Staley who has also written for Patty Loveless and Faith Hill.
The Moon, The Stars and Me is a slow burning ballad of heartbreak and betrayal. It all sounds so effortlessly good it’s hard to believe she had spent so long struggling to find decent songs like this through the whole of the 80s.
The album ends on a spectacular note with He’s Alive, a cover of Don Francisco’s classic gospel song. Dolly’s version is melodramatic, ridiculous, overblown and utterly, utterly brilliant. One of the best performances of her whole career. Only Dolly could channel the spirit like this.
White Limozeen is a triumph from start to finish. Praise Jesus, Dolly’s back from the dead.
In 2018 I started my project to review all of Dolly Parton’s solo albums in order. Here is a link to a list of the albums I have reviewed so far: https://highwayqueens.com/2021/03/03/dolly-partons-discography-album-reviews-list/