In her 1982 song ‘Hard Candy Christmas’ Dolly sang of enduring a difficult time where she was ‘barely getting through’. That song with its message about not letting sorrow get you down feels like the realistic Christmas anthem we need for 2020.
In contrast A Holly Dolly Christmas, Dolly’s third Christmas album, is free from any hints of the pain and strife we’ve all endured this year. It’s a red bow and a sparkling smile, throwing glitter and sparkles at you throughout. Forget your troubles, come on be happy. Dolly’s current incarnation is a fairy godmother of joy, with not even a moment of despair allowed to darken the delights, even though she made her name on songs which cut to the heart of the bittersweet pain of real life.
But look if, like me, your Christmas spirit is missing this year maybe Dolly can find it for you, even if songs about meeting loved ones and enjoying yourself feel kind of hollow to many right now.
We begin with a cute country version of Holly Jolly Christmas, which inspired the perfectly punny album title. Christmas Is is one of the new original songs Dolly has written for the album and Miley joins her for a duet. The message is clear: gratitude, love, compassion are needed at this time of year. On this album Dolly has continued with the strategy she utilised on the Dumplin soundtrack of including multiple big name guests, no doubt to help boost her streaming and social media algorithms.
Dolly’s next guest is Michael Buble on ‘Cuddle Up, Cosy Down Christmas’ where they sing about snuggling with your loved one in a snowstorm. It’s best described as a less problematic Baby It’s Cold Outside but unfortunately lacks the hook or the drama of that classic. Dolly is using Buble’s Christmas star power to her streaming advantage of course, but I must say I don’t see the appeal of his bland and smarmy singing style so this one leaves me cold.
Thankfully Christmas on the Square is back in my kind of musical territory – it’s a lovely little country ditty. Cheesy, fun and straight to the heart of how community makes Christmas, which is what we’ll all miss this year. Dolly gives us a little hoedown and a yeehaw to see us through.
Circle of Love is the most beautiful song on the album. Dolly wrote this one for the soundtrack of her Christmas movie a few years back for Jennifer Nettles to perform. It’s a gospel inspired song, and Dolly always sounds like she’s in her element when delivering these worship songs like the preacher’s granddaughter that she is.
Dolly has another guest on her cover of Mariah’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ – this time it’s Jimmy Fallon. Now maybe it’s because I’m Scottish and therefore I don’t know really know who this guy is but I found this duet painful to listen to. Honestly I’d much prefer just hearing Dolly sing these songs on her own. Bah humbug.
The second side of the album begins with Dolly’s 2009 single ‘Coming Home For Christmas’ which nicely takes us back to her Tennessee Mountain roots for some sweet nostalgia.
We then have a run of two more duets, this time she has kept her choices comfortably familiar and country. First up we have Billy Ray Cyrus joining her on ‘Christmas Where We Are’, which aims for a kind of light country sound but ends up quite shaky production wise. Then we have her old friend Willie Nelson appear for a lovely version of his classic Pretty Paper. Unlike the other duets on the album Willie’s understated harmonising adds rather than detracts from the song.
Dolly then gives us a fun classic country version of ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ and a sweet duet with her brother Randy and niece Heidi on You Are My Christmas. Family matters to Dolly, at Christmas and in music. The album finishes with a heartfelt and dramatic version of Mary, Did You Know, aided nicely by her choir of backing singers.
Overall even though it’s patchy at times and weakened by too many guest vocalists, on Christmas Day when you want something festive to soundtrack your socially distant soirée A Holly Dolly Christmas will surely be perfect. Maybe Dolly can’t save Christmas this year but she has given it a decent try and for that we should all be thankful.
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/
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