Some artists set trends, others chase them and a few may be around long enough to do both. You can’t help but admire those, like Dolly, who refuse to exploit old glories or just fade away and have continually tried to stay relevant to the zeitgeist, no matter how difficult or desperate or futile the attempt.
White Limozeen and Eagle When She Flies were both hit albums because they combined classic country, a little of her eighties pop pizzazz and just enough of current country trends to return her successfully to the top of the charts. Slow Dancing With the Moon was a more calculated attempt at fully embracing the nineties pop country sound – line dancing and Billy Ray Cyrus included – ironically with more middling commercial results.
Full Circle begins with the line ‘you’ve seen me naked in more ways than one’ – the song is an honest look at a long term relationship, which could just as easily refer to her career too. Co-written with her long time friend Mac Davis, it’s a classic ballad with a fantastic vocal performance. The genre traditionalists may not have liked the nineties pop sound, but this neotraditonal song is much more country musically than some of her seventies schmaltz or eighties pop.
Romeo is a collaboration with Cyrus, Pam Tillis, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tanya Tucker and Kathy Mattea as though Dolly was hoping that the more famous faces she recruited the more chance she had of chart success. The song itself has Dolly swooning over the hunky Achy Breaky Heart singer, describing herself as being in ‘heat’ as her friends sing harmony and giggle in the background.
Dolly admitted ‘I was trying to get played on the radio, when we did Romeo. Very commercial but it still didn’t do it. I mean the song was cute. But it was not a cute song for me.’
A song about a middle aged woman lusting after a young hottie is probably always going to be a tough sell for reasons of misogyny and ageism (just ask Madonna). The song only reached number 27 on the charts, a real let down after the lead singles from her previous two albums had reached number one. Listening now it sounds like a fun, raucous drunken night out with your friends – maybe you cringe looking back but you enjoyed yourself at the time. And there’s nothing wrong with turning the tables to objectify men every now and again. Equality matters, after all.
You Got Me Over (A Heartache Tonight) is a more tame country waltz in comparison, although it’s also about going out to a bar and finding comfort in the arms of a stranger. Sometimes hooking up is good for the soul, as Dolly and and her duet partner Billy Dean discover. The song was co-written by Larry Weiss, of Rhinestone Cowboy fame.
What Will Baby Be is classic Dolly songwriting, harking back to traditional folk music structures and instruments, giving it a sweet Celtic flavour.
More Where That Came From is an uptempo number, Dolly’s deliberate attempt at writing a song for line dancing. It might sound catchy but it wasn’t a hit and maybe lacked that distinctive lyrical touch and hook that usually set Dolly apart from her contemporaries. However compared to her eighties offerings it’s a great little toe tapper.
Put A Little Love in Your Heart, a cover of the Jackie DeShannon song, is an uplifting, gospel sounding number aided by the beautiful Christ Church Choir.
Why Can’t We? has Dolly contemplating an idyllic world that she wishes her and her prideful lover could find. There’s sweet fiddle on this one too, which just adds to that note of dreamy longing.
The title I’ll Make Your Bed sounds like a feminist’s nightmare, and on the song Dolly admits that while she can’t cook she will take care of her lover in other ways. There’s a knowing, sexually suggestive humour in the delivery which makes it subversive enough to save it from being entirely problematic. The sound is reminiscent of the Trio album in its light, old timey style.
Whenever Forever Comes is another duet with a male contemporary country singer, this time Collin Raye. Dolly has spent her career collaborating with others, sometimes there’s real chemistry and other times the featured artist is bland and forgettable in comparison with the star of the show. This one is unfortunately the latter.
Cross My Heart is a fine country ballad, although it suffers somewhat by sounding too similar to the previous track. This one was written by her brother Randy and sister Rachel and was first released by her sister Stella in 1987. Dolly keeps the same pop country sound as her sister’s version. The complexities of the relationships between Dolly and her many siblings are intriguing – the ones who attempted a show-business career even more so. Dolly certainly wouldn’t have recorded any old thing just because it was written by her family – she knows a decent song when she hears one.
Title track Slow Dancing With the Moon was written especially for the album by Mac Davis. Dolly described what the song was about ‘He says it’s the way he sees me, how I’m always chasing a dream…that I’m the same kid he met so many years ago and my spirit has remained the same.’ Mac was a steadfast friend and collaborator, and this lovely song reflects the depth of their relationship. After Mac’s recent passing Dolly called him ‘one of my dearest friends’ and ‘one of the world’s greatest writers, singers and entertainers.’
Closing number High and Mighty is one of Dolly’s best gospel songs, recently revived by its showstopping inclusion in the Dumplin’ movie. The Christ church choir features again and they’re fabulous fun, really adding a timeless quality to the song.
Slow Dancing With the Moon may not have been the huge commercial success she hoped for and it lacks a stand out hit single but overall it’s a decent enough album with some songs that still stand up. As Dolly said at the time, ‘when the new country came along any artist over the age of thirty five was thought to have been a has-been…I thought ‘Well Hell I’m not going down with the rest of them old farts. I’m going to find some new ways of doing it.’ That attitude remains core to how she has lived her life and why she remains as relevant as ever.