Run Rose Run is a unique album in Dolly’s discography, being released simultaneously with a novel tie in of the same name, co-written with James Patterson. Essentially this is a novel (and soon to be a movie) soundtrack. Dolly has been working hard expanding the Dollyverse and promoting these two projects with multiple events online and even in person at South by Southwest.
Before listening to the album and reading the novel I will admit to having some snobbish reservations. Firstly James Patterson is known for trashy airport thrillers, which are throwaway at best. However more concerning for me is the fact that he doesn’t even write his own books anymore, using a factory of ghost writers to churn out his ideas. So part of me doubts Dolly and James had much to do with the actual writing of this project beyond basic outlines and editorial changes. With the added album tie-in, the whole project struck me as a cash cow rather than a passion project.
After reading and listening to both, I can happily report that Dolly has put her heart and soul into the music, as always. In fact I would say this is a vastly superior collection of songs than the originals she wrote for the Dumplin’ soundtrack.
The novel itself is readable and not entirely without merit. The plot follows a familiar trope of the young woman who moves to Nashville in an effort to find country music stardom. Rose, or AnnieLee as she becomes, is sassy, independent and more than a little reckless – all of which make her a pretty easy heroine to root for. She’s escaping a terrifying past, which may be predictable enough, but the tense writing propels you through the story so you don’t even notice how derivative it may be. I enjoyed all the Nashville and country music references even if I’d heard them before. Well if I’m not going to like this, then who is?
The main element of this novel which I can see having significant input from Dolly Parton is the other main character Ruthanna Ryder. She’s a kind of Bobbie Gentry style figure who was once a huge country music star and has now ‘retired’. She owns the venue that our heroine is discovered at and becomes her mentor and mother figure. The news that the novel is to be made into a film starring Dolly in this role, surely explains why she would be so keen to have her name associated with the project from the start.
In the end Dolly’s songs are far superior in quality to the actual novel itself. Dolly was originally only going to help with the novel but was inspired to write the music afterwards. The opening song Run sets the album off at a canter, with a driving bluegrass style sounding refreshing and revitalising, considering some of Dolly’s recent song offerings.
The songs are split into categories: sung by Ruthanna Ryder, Rose McCord and her love interest Ethan plus some collaborations between the characters. All the songs were solo written by Dolly but you can see her switching between perspectives and styles depending on who she’s writing for. If they use these songs in the film version many will have to be re-recorded in character and I’d be interested to see how that would turn out.
Rose’s style is classic country and bluegrass – a traditional slant which is interesting as she’s supposed to be the young country breakout star. In the novel Driven was written on her way to Nashville and becomes their breakout radio hit. That’s as implausible as the plot really, since this is a pretty simple bluegrass stomper and unlikely to ever succeed at country radio. It’s enjoyable enough, even if the ‘uh huh’ repetition grates after a few listens.
‘Woman Up (And Take It Like A Man) is a total hoot, and in any other universe it should be a big country music hit. Dolly’s voice probably sounds the strongest here, backed up with her choir and a pulsating drumbeat. The lyrics are full of Dolly’s inspirational and motivational wisdom. Sure it’s corny but that’s the point.
Firecracker is a bluegrass hoedown which is blistering good fun and includes Dolly doing a little Elvis impression as well for good measure. Dark Night, Big Future is another optimistic bluegrass song, working as Rose’s finale song which Dolly sings with help from the Appalachian Road Show.
Ruthanna’s big ‘hit’ is Big Dreams and Faded Jeans and it definitely sounds like classic Dolly. It’s catchy and delivered with the force of personality we’ve come to expect, even if her voice is a little breathier and weaker than in her heyday. Snakes in the Grass works as a warning to look out for all the bad men in the music industry, the final whispered ‘watch your ass’ would be funny if it’s wasn’t still such depressingly necessary advice.
The songs written for Ethan’s character are probably the weakest in the collection (he’s the most underwritten character in the book too). Secrets is a pretty standard ballad, and while Demons benefits from the vocals of Ben Haggard, both are let down by the bland and dated production style.
Lost and Found is a mostly forgettable duet with Joe Nichols. The final duet ‘Love or Lust’ is pretty cheesy too and not her best vocal performance, especially in contrast with her duet partner Richard Dennison (also a co-producer).
The highlight of the whole album is the ballad Blue Bonnet Breeze, which in the novel is a collaboration between the two central female characters. It’s a lovely folk song with a haunting and dreamy sound that feels like it could have fitted on one of Dolly’s classic albums.
Overall then I would say that while the album is patchy in places, notably where she’s written in the voice of the male character, there’s still enough of Dolly’s magic dust to warrant repeated listens. Let’s hope the film version turns out to be equally as much fun.
I am working on reviewing 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/