A couple of years back I made a running playlist of Dolly Parton songs, my favourite of which is the title track from this album ‘Blue Smoke’. My running route included quite a large hill and so this song would usually come on just at the point I was ‘climbin’ up the mountain’ and I found it always gave me the motivation I needed to keep going. The tune is one of Dolly’s most underrated songs, about leaving behind your old life and never looking back. A simple bluegrass arrangement that suits Dolly so well and one of her catchiest melodies – so catchy that the Glastonbury crowd picked it up almost instantly despite it being unfamiliar to most of them when she played it there.
‘Unlikely Angel’ is a beautiful ballad, and the name of the great book on Dolly’s music. A genuine love song filled with hope and some lovely fiddle.
One of my favourite cover versions of Dolly’s whole career is ‘Don’t Think Twice’, which alongside her version of ‘Blowin in the Wind’ suggests that she should really think about recording a full album of Dylan covers in a country bluegrass style.
This album also includes the return of her duet partner Kenny Rogers for the wonderful ‘You Can’t Make Old Friends’. Here they both sing a song about aging and connection across the decades in a way that offers such a sweetly sentimental view of the reality of friendship, made all the more poignant after Kenny’s recent death.
‘Home’ is a great country pop song, returning back to one of Dolly’s main recurring themes- the draw of the countryside and the nostalgia of returning home. So far, so much quality on this album.
‘Banks of the Ohio’ is a traditional mountain song, arranged by Dolly in a quite stark stripped back style that lets her and her band convey all the tragedy of the song. Really it is a bit horrific to hear Dolly singing about killing someone but that’s folk music for you, I guess.
The other cover on here is strangely Bon Jovi’s ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’ which allows Dolly to sing a sexy song in quite a rock and roll style, while at the same time claiming she’s actually singing about God (just to keep all elements of her audience happy). At Glastonbury Richie Sambora himself came on stage and contributed his guitar. Strangely it works, even though it really shouldn’t. Dolly is in the Rock Hall now and this one is probably her best example of where she actually pulls off this style.
‘Miss You Miss Me’ puts Dolly in the shoes of a child of divorced parents, singing to her absent father about the pain of the separation. Here she longs for a reunited family, tinged with nostalgia. There is a little hint of her trying to do that child voice (which I usually hate) but when she actually just sings the song normally it sounds pretty good.
‘If I Had Wings’ is another classic sounding folk song, using inspiration from her bluegrass albums no doubt.
Dolly tries to inject some sass and personality in ‘Lover Du Jour’, which starts with a little spoken word riposte to some man before a nice little take down on his Romeo ways. It’s pretty corny and cheesy but overall fun.
Taking of old friends, Willie Nelson makes another appearance in Dolly’s discography with the duet ‘From Here to the Moon and Back’. Together they never had the same opportunity to develop their singing partnership as Porter or Kenny did, which is a shame as this proves that their voices really compliment each other beautifully.
The album finishes with ‘Try’ which is another one of Dolly’s brilliant motivational songs, using her own life to inspire others to live their best life. An uplifting and amazing way to finish an album of exceptional quality.
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/
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