‘Better Day’ was Dolly’s 43rd solo album and came three years after the fantastic return to form that was ‘Backwoods Barbie’. Some of the songs on ‘Better Day’ were written for the musical version of ‘9 to 5’ which Dolly had been working on around this time. The intention of the album was to be an uplifting collection of songs, all written by Dolly, that would help people escape from their troubles.
To begin the album we have a song called ‘In the Meantime’ where Dolly muses on the end of the world. She tells us that we shouldn’t be afraid and must ‘drop the doomsday attitude’, coming across like the Cate Blanchett character in ‘Don’t Look Up’. She also scoffs at those who are always talking about the ‘good old days’ and remind us ‘the best days we’ve ever known are the days we’re living in’. It’s a little patronising to be honest, not something common in Dolly’s songwriting. I get her intention here, but this song has not dated well.
‘Just Leavin’ is a more straightforward song about reaching the end of your tether with someone and deciding to move on. She’s ‘a little scared’ but there’s a confidence and determination here which feels typically ‘Dolly’.
‘Somebody’s Missing You’ is a sweet love song about missing your lost love. It feels like too much of a sharp contrast with the previous song and at this point in the album it’s hard to find an overall theme or storyline which holds these songs together.
‘Together You and I’ is a decent pop country song, with uplifting vocals that show Dolly at her best. Lyrically it is a basic love song, with nothing particularly original or distinctive, but compared to some of the songs on this album maybe that’s a good thing.
So yes ‘Country is as Country Does’ has some of the worst lyrics Dolly has written for quite a while including the line ‘kiss my ham’. Sure she’s aiming to write a cheesy comedy song but this one really is toe-curling. It’s only fun towards the end when the band takes over and it becomes a hokey hoedown.
‘Holding Everything’ is a big glossy 80s ballad, with some added pedal steel to make it sound country. Her band member and producer Kent Wells takes a verse and adds his rich tones to the song. Lyrically it is full of cliches and Dolly’s voice is stretched somewhat in the delivery but you can’t fault its intentions as an uplifting love song.
‘The Sacrifice’ is the key song on this album, an honest appraisal of the ‘blood, sweat and tears’ that Dolly had to go through to become a success. What is interesting about this one is the line ‘I was going to be rich, no matter how much the cost’, something which you can see in some of the business decisions across her career.
‘I Just Might’ is one of the songs from the musical and Dolly does sound like she’s enjoying being the storyteller and adopting a role. It’s a sweet and empowering song about inner strength, and although I’ve not seen the stage musical I can just imagine it’s a spotlight moment for any actress to deliver.
‘Better Day’ is a really interesting soulful bluesy number, which begins with a spoken word interlude and then gets a little bit of a swing going. This type of singing is always fun, even if it’s not a natural fit for Dolly’s voice.
‘Shine Like the Sun’ is another song from the musical, directly sung before the interval. Then we have ‘Get Out and Stay Out’ a feminist anthem that kicks the cheating man to the curb and the pretty ‘Let Love Grow’. All of these do sound a little like Dolly is demoing them for other people to sing, rather than being perfectly suited to her own voice.
Still listening to this album does make me want to actually see the musical and hear the songs within their context (it is no longer in the west end or touring right now but it seems moderately popular enough to get another revival at some point in the future).
Overall due to some of the production choices and the disparate nature of how these songs have been written, ‘Better Day’ is not as coherent or as confident sounding as ‘Backwoods Barbie’. The intention was good but the final product is somewhat middling.
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