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Professor Knowall

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In 1988, Parton founded the Dollywood Foundation. In the early 1990s, the foundation promised $500 to every Appalachian Tennessee region students who graduated from high school. In doing so, she decreased the dropout
rate from 35% to 6%. Today, the initiative has morphed into serving many different causes, including Parton's Imagination Library, which has provided hundreds of millions of free books to children around the world, including Australia.

Also in 1988, Parton was inducted into the Songwriters HoF. Parton’s career scaled another peak when "Trio", recorded with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, won a Grammy for best country album in 1987. However in the same year,
her "Rainbow" album resulted in her deepest plunge yet into mainstream pop, although 1989’s more countrified "White Limozeen" (produced by Ricky Skaggs) retained or regained the loyalty of her grassroots following, highlighted by the
# 1 hit, 'Why'd You Come In Here Lookin' Like That'.

Though the song was written by 2 men, Bob Carlisle and Randy Thomas, - as obviously it's usually men who sing about women who can stop traffic during a night on the town, Parton flips the script - and gets to show off her renowned wit and humour this time in song. It’s a fun, lighthearted ode to jealousy in a way that is distinctly Dolly. With its upbeat, cut-time drive and bouncing fiddle, it perfectly combines all of Dolly’s strengths - storytelling, an uptempo dance beat, and pure country sound - mixed with a dose of campiness and introducing the phrase “painted-on jeans”. The song also features one of Parton's funniest music videos, a reality show-style audition series that allows Dolly to show off her by now well honed comedic acting chops -


In 1991, Parton tapped country music veteran, Van Shelton for a duet of 'Rockin' Years' off the album "Eagle When
She Flies", earning Parton another # 1 hi - her 22nd. This is a sweet, nostalgic song where (then aged 45) she talks
about being much older, sitting in a rocking chair and reminiscing about all of the things that she has done throughout
her life. She speaks of some of the struggles that most people can identify with throughout their own lifetime, but also
of the joys. She also sings about the joys outweighing those struggles when it’s time to sit back in the twilight of one’s
life and look back at everything that’s happened. It plays like a pitch perfect throwback to Parton's early days singing duets with Porter Wagoner -


In Parton’s songwriting, faith and family recur frequently as repositories of strength in difficult times. Of all her series of "Tennessee songs", 'Smoky Mountain Memories', from her album, "Heartsongs: Live From Home", is perhaps the most soulful. A song reminiscent of Bobby Bare's great hit 'Detroit City' (see post # 464), it reflects on the hardships faced by several million poverty-stricken southern workers who travelled north in search of work and fortune after WW2, Parton routinely dedicates the song to the memory of her father, who lasted all of 2 weeks in the northern city before heading back to his mountain home - as she describes in the first 2 minutes of this clip before she sings one of her most personal songs about her childhood and family -


'Before The Next Teardrop Falls' was originally a classic recorded by Country-Tejano (Tex-Mex) great Freddy Fender in 1974. Parton covered it a little more than 20 years later, in 1996, including it on her covers album "Treasures". Parton's version featured vocals by David Hidalgo, who sang the Spanish lyrics. It's of the timeless country theme of a love lost to another and the bittersweet sentiments that go with still being in love with her and wishing her the best - with a proviso. It is quite the tear-jerker in its own right, something that Dolly Parton has become synonymous with - but notice how it also pays homage to the songs original bi-lingual Tejano origins -


Along the way through the 1990's, despite her never fully abandoning her country roots, as we've just seen with these selections, Dolly, by continuing to also record and pop lots of (increasingly dated sounding) pop stuff, ultimately lost much of her core country audience (as well as the ever shallow and fickle pop fans) to the point that in 1997 she dissolved her fan club, which had once been one of the staunchest in country music. But Parton’s career - and her appeal to fans of hard-core country - proved to far from over, as she changed direction again. Beginning in 1999 she returned to the
music of her youth and began rebuilding a tradition-minded fan base with a series of critically acclaimed bluegrass albums, starting with "The Grass Is Blue". It was named Album of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association and won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. The same year, 1999, Parton was inducted into the
Country Music HoF.

The series of bluegrass albums reinvigorated Parton's career and her audience. "Little Sparrow" from 2001, in a similar style to "The Grass Is Blue", but even better, marked Dolly's return to pure country music after her long tango with pop material. Also the title of her second bluegrass album, 'Little Sparrow' has a soulful, acoustic style that echoes Dolly's Appalachian roots, saying on its release - "These are the songs I came out of the mountains singing and moved to Nashville and tried to make a living with. You can't make much money with this music, but it feels good to be back
singing it".
But contrary to her prediction, she ended up making a lot of money with this music -


Tomorrow will see Dolly Parton's career continue into the 21st century with her return to authentic country music - and still able to chart despite the mainstream country music market being mostly taken over (thanks to dishonest marketing by major recording companies) by insipid pop music, creating a record no other artist has matched.
 

Professor Knowall

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Never really explored a whole lot of country music except for alt country eg Wilco and Ryan Adams, but I’ve been listening to Gene Clark and Jackson C. Frank and really like the general style.
Any other reccs?
GP and Grevious Angel by Gram Parsons.
Townes Van Zandt
Once Gene Clark was mentioned, Gram Parsons and the great songwriter, Townes Van Zandt are definites. If you're
up for an even deeper dive, try the Williams dynasty all the way from the honky tonk era of the 1950's through to the 21st century - Hank Snr, Hank Jnr, then Hank lll - or check out the Outlaw era of the 1970's - Waylon Jennings, Willie Neilson, Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe. Or, just, at your leisure, check out a table random the last 20 pages or
so of this thread and see what you like or don't like - lots of variety to choose from.
 

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Professor Knowall

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The new guard of Luke Combs, Riley Green, Chris Stapleton are bloody good too.
I nearly posted last week - the bad news from the CMA awards was that Luke Bryan hosted it - but the good news was Luke Combs won it (best entertainer). It seems real country music is finally making a comeback back to the mainstream after 2 decades of mostly pop bro-country crap. Also add Sturgill Simpson, Cody Jinks, Tyler Childers and Jamey Johnson to the list.
 

Taylor Moss

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I nearly posted last week - the bad news from the CMA awards was that Luke Bryan hosted it - but the good news was Luke Combs won it (best entertainer). It seems real country music is finally making a comeback back to the mainstream after 2 decades of mostly pop bro-country crap. Also add Sturgill Simpson, Cody Jinks, Tyler Childers and Jamey Johnson to the list.
Whisky Riff website asked if you were to make a current day ‘Highwaymen’ who would you choose? The only 2 I could think of were Jinks & Childers.
 

Professor Knowall

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Today we proceed into Dolly Parton's music of the 21st century - an era in which the recording companies, now part
of multi-national companies like Sony, cynically change the country music charts by opening it to pop and rhen the development of the faux-country crap known as "bro-country". This in turn resulted in authentic country music being shoved from the mainstream and labeled as "roots" or "Americana" or even in the "Indie" charts - and so it was that in the decade covered by today's offering, Dolly Parton's music charted higher on the "Indie" charts than the no longer very country, cou try charts. Her music was no longer the pop influenced (or straight out pop) of the previous 2 decades, as she really didn't return to her Smoky Mountains Appalachian roots.

Continuing from yesterday and her 2001 bluegrass album "Little Sparrow" (which most Bluegrass enthusiasts consider is her best work), Dolly’s vocals on 'A Tender Lie' are haunting and the instrumentation captures her musical depth -


'I’m Gone' is from the final album, in the acclaimed bluegrass trio, 2002's "Halo & Horns". It continues Dolly’s tradition
of playing the scorned woman - something she does incredibly well. It's probably the Dolly song that is most fun to sing along to (once you can learn all the thousands of words it includes). The music video below for 'I’m Gone', apart from being quite trippy for a country clip - the early 2000s were a strange time - shows Dolly playing 4 of about the 15 or
so instruments she's proficient in, learning from a young age. She usually plays from 10-12 in her concerts -


The final song on the 2002 "Halo & Horns" album will be familiar to everyone here. Now I know this selection might seem heretical for some here - a country cover of Led Zeppelin's timeless rock classic 'Stairway To Heaven'. But if one can caste aside that thought and just listen, you may find this country bluegrass version surprisingly appropriate - Dolly didn't just cover the song, she paid tribute to it. Her additional lyrics at the end fit perfectly and made sense. And, dare I say it - yeah, why not - her voice is heavenly (sorry) -


I hesitated to put so many songs from 2008's "Backwoods Barbie" album on the list (there's more to come), but I consider the album to be one of her greatest musical achievements of this millennium. I would recommend it as an excellent starter album for any new Dolly fan. 'Cologne' details one of the most gut wrenching perspectives on an affair I’ve ever heard. It’s one reason why Dolly’s songwriting is so good - she inhabits the stories and lives of other people
so effortlessly -


Another from 2008's "Backwoods Barbie" album and writte in New York City when Dolly was feeling homesick for her Great Smokies home, 'Only Dreamin’ is reminiscent of the old Celtic and Irish tunes that survived in the isolated valleys
of the Appalachians and inspired Dolly growing up. The story it tells is heartbreaking, but it’s one everyone can relate to - dreaming for something that will never come true. If you’re in to having a “Sad Music Playlist”, this one is a must add -


In 2004, the Library of Congress presented Parton with the "Living Legend Award" for her contributions to the USA’s cultural landscape. In 2005, she received the "National Medal of Arts", the highest award given to artists by the U.S. government; a year later, she received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors.

I had fully intended to wrap up Dolly Parton's history today (and originally yesterday). However, I'm hitting the road again after tomorrow for at least a week. With just one day spare, I couldn't start on another artist, so I decided to do 1 extra bonus day on Dolly - taking her career right up to the 2020's, as she's never stopped working.
 

Professor Knowall

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For today's "bonus extra", we'll follow Dolly Parton's career right up to the present time - but starting where we left off, with a couple of more selections from her 2008 "Backwoods Barbie" album.

As a neat bookend to 1968's 'Dumb Blond', the first Dolly song I selected, 'Backwoods Barbie' opens the last day. Written for Parton's 2008 Broadway musical "9 To 5", the song resonates with Parton personally, writing - "'Backwoods Barbie’
is me saying, ‘Okay, here’s who I am, just a backwoods country girl who wants to be pretty more than anything in the worldAnd I did. I loved anything fancy. I wanted to be pretty, like the pictures in the magazines
.” But while the song touches on “all that I am and all that I wanted to be,” it has a clear double meaning - "It was also saying, ‘Don’t judge
a book by the cover, because there’s a lot underneath the hair and the boobs. The song is really about that..
.” she wrote.

Released as the first album on her own label, Dolly Records, "Backwoods Barbie" was a reminder that Dolly, 40 years after her first top 20 solo hit 'Dumb Blonde', was still a powerful force in the modern music world -
So read into it what you will, but see me as I am, / The way I look is just a country girl’s idea of glam.”
Surface-level glamour may take look different to the down-home country girl than it does on the runway, but Parton has made a career out of the talent and wit beneath the get-ups. Contrary to the lyrics, it's been a long time since anyone has been “fooled into thinkin’ the goods are not all there.”


After a multi-decade career as one of the greatest success stories in country and pop music, the humility on display on 'Jesus and Gravity' is impressive. Parton’s love for country comes through strong on this, arguably her biggest and best single of the 2000s, blending contemporary country-lite with a gospel choir. She’s quick to credit her own gumption (and her faith) for her success and not fate or luck, never comfortable embracing the blond bimbo label -
“... I can’t say I’ve come this far with my guitar on pure, dumb luck / That’s not to say I know it all…”


Parton originally recorded and performed 'From Here To The Moon and Back' with Kris Kristofferson in the 2012
movie "Joyful Noise". The following year, she re-recorded the tune with Willie Nelson, found on both Nelson's 2013
album "To All the Girls...." and Parton's 2014 "Blue Smoke". Here we have the original version. This is probably one
of the sweetest songs you’re ever likely to hear, whether you listen to country or virtually any other music genre. The
title is fairly self-explanatory, as is the song, talking about loving someone from here to the moon and back, no matter what the circumstances - so it's a song about unconditional love, that we all wish we had ourselves and the type most people would hope to give to someone else at some point in their life. Some are so lucky - many are not -


More than 45 years since Parton's first top 10 single, the title track from 2014's "Blue Smoke” album is pure, distilled, raw country. With bluegrass instrumentation and momentum, it trundles ahead like a locomotive, eager and earnest. You can hear her age (68 at the time) manifesting itself in raspy, throaty tones when she sings the first several lines - which only makes the song better. It lends itself well to a song about a long-suffering, mistreated lover who declares over the bridge - “I’ve had just about all the heartbreak I can stand!” -


'When Life Is Good Again' is the most fitting way to finish on for Dolly, being released in 2020, considering the pandemic and the global lockdown that happened as a direct result of it. On the surface, the song talks about when life will be good again, simply meaning when things can return back to normal. However, it goes on to have a deeper meaning. Ultimately, it talks about not waiting until everything is ideal for life to become good again but about finding happiness within oneself and finding one’s own peace, regardless of the circumstances, so that life can be good, even in the midst of turmoil and chaos.

In April 2020, the same month she recorded this song, Parton also donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center to aid in research toward a vaccine for the coronavirus. Just 7 months later, in November, it was revealed the legendary performer's donation was a major factor that helped fund Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine.

I have, over the last few days, listed some of Dolly's major achievements such as her induction into the Songwriters HoF in 1990, the Country Music HoF way back in 1993. There are also all her 49 Grammy nominations and 9 wins and CMA awards - to many for me to itemise. Also an actress and author, she's been nominated for 2 Oscars, 3 Emmys and a Tony - Parton wrote the music and lyrics for the musical adaptation of 9 to 5, which debuted on Broadway in 2009; her work was nominated for the Best Original Score Tony award. And don't forget she runs a major entertainment empire, the Dollywood Company, that employs thousands in her East Tennessee homeland.

In December 2020 BBC labelled Dolly as the world's most loved celebrity. This article explains why - and also, albeit from a very British perspective, outlines the reasons why (and as I didn't use this as a source, provides some additional details of Dolly' life and achievements) -
In August 2020, USA Today named Parton as their "Woman of the Century". TIME Magazine named Dolly Parton among the world's 100 most influential people of 2021 (with a foreword written by her goddaughter, Miley Cyrus). And she ain't finished yet. At age 75, she's just brought out another album and there's no sign yet that this "dumb" blond from a dirt poor Appalachian family of 12 siblings is slowing down any time soon. Legends don't come more legendary than this one.

Now I'm on the road again and won't be back (at least for big history posts) for about 10 days or so. But I'll be back with an artist known simply as "the storyteller".
 

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