In an interview around the time of this album Dolly stated, ‘I’m not a bit political, but I’m extremely patriotic’. This is somewhat contradictory statement on its own terms and after listening to For God and Country it appears to be a flat out deception on Dolly’s part. This album is the most overtly political statement of Dolly’s career.
The ‘For God’ element of this record is passable at best but nowhere near her usual quality work in the gospel genre. But it is the ‘And Country’ aspect which needs some further historical context about the post- 9/11 era in which it was released.
On her previous album ‘Halos and Horns’ there were some original songs which addressed the attack and were quite thoughtful, if not overblown in delivery. It’s hard looking back to remember the madness of this time with the horror of the terrorist attacks then compounded by the senseless wars fought in response. Country music in general was conservative, Republican, nationalistic, pro-guns and pro-war so Dolly uses this album to appeal to that core audience.
So what of the music then? Take a deep breath and we shall begin.
Opening with traditional ‘The Lord is my Shepard’ is a nice start, her spoken word elements nicely contrasting with the gospel choir behind her. Here we have a glimpse of what could have been a more quiet, thoughtful record about faith in times of turbulence.
Then the patriotism begins with a rendition of the national anthem – Dolly’s strong vocal range is on show, but it lacks true emotional depth. She’s going through the motions here and the production is as slick and polished as you’d expect from a release like this.
A key feature of this record is how Dolly uses spoken word elements throughout to ‘preach’ directly to her listeners. She claims the project is of ‘divine’ origin and her hope is to ‘uplift’ people, which is an intention you you can’t really argue with. However she then says America is the best country in the world which comes across as somewhat insensitive in retrospect.
God Bless the USA then begins with some of the cheesiest, most 1980s sounding production Dolly has ever done. An overblown mess.
Then she re-records Light of a Clear Blue Morning in a similarly slick production style. The song offers a positive, optimistic heart and for that alone its inclusion is merited. As one of Dolly’s best songs its power remains strong but I don’t think this version offers anything more than the original.
When Johnny Comes Marching Home is another traditional song about war. It’s supposed to be a ‘joyful’ song but to my ears it just sounds unnervingly sinister.
The next song begins with more of the strange spoken word storytelling, this time about an ‘old fellow’ who lost an arm and leg in World War Two before killing himself. Now that’s a story which tells the truth about the real consequences of war – one that if Dolly had been brave enough she would have written more songs about instead of this album of propaganda. The next song Welcome Home is written by Dolly offering a tragic tale of parents who lose their children in the war. Here we have the heart and authentic emotion which is lacking elsewhere.
Now I’m not exaggerating when I say that Gee Ma I Wanna Go Home is the worst song that Dolly has ever recorded. Here she offers a comedy song about 9/11, Saddam and Bin Laden. Truly this is so awful it is beyond offensive. Gee Dolly, I Want This Wiped From My Memory.
Then we have another spoken word moment about how she loves God and church before a choir comes in to sing Whispering Hope. As a palate cleanser for the song before it could work but then she comes in again at the end talking about how she just loves to go to the black church and hear ‘them’ sing, which sounds more than a little condescending to 21st century ears. The Fairfield Four then join her for a rendition of ‘Peace in the Valley’, which is lovely at least.
Red, White and Bluegrass is actually terrific fun and catchy as hell. My Country Tis has Dolly taking the old song and adding her own bluegrass arrangement, which is also fine. If these songs were on any of her previous three albums I would have actually enjoyed them more but by this point I’m quite done with the nationalism nonsense.
I’m Gonna Miss You goes back to that slick, cheesy production style with sentimental lyrics about a brave dead soldier who ‘fought a good fight’. It is cloying and difficult to listen to.
Go To Hell begins with Dolly discussing the devil on her shoulder and her own complex relationship with goodness, then becomes a chirpy gospel song which tries to exorcise Satan from her life and includes a call and response section which shows off her preacher family legacy.
We then have a short speech supporting the special forces before Ballad of the Green Beret offers further propaganda about the ‘fearless’ nature of soldiers. ‘Brave Little Soldier’ is a children’s song (which she re-recorded for I Believe in You) sung in Dolly’s childlike ‘Little Andy’ voice, with added kids choir. It’s a song of positivity and strength dedicated to kids whose parents are off fighting in the war and her niece with cancer. It’s hard to really criticise the intention here, but the battle metaphors seem outdated and inappropriate for children.
Dolly then introduces the story of Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree with a short history of the song’s origin. The version is nicely sung, with a great bluegrass sound. Color Me America is a ballad using the colour metaphors effectively to sing about freedom, love, peace and beauty. The Glory Forever finishes off the album with a short haunting hymn.
Over the eighteen tracks the quality has been so varied it is hard to know how to sum things up, especially since I am clearly not the target market for this music and message which I found tasteless and tacky at times. A cynic would say that Dolly was cashing in on an unpleasant moment in American history but maybe it’s more realistic to conclude that this is a genuine expression of her own patriotic, political and religious beliefs.
The critical reception of this album was universally poor and unfortunately this is probably my least favourite record in her discography so far.
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/