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Dolly Parton

Pure & Simple – 2016 (Dolly Records/RCA Nashville)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton is no stranger to flash. Even before our modern country era, where many of the most successful artists rival contemporary pop stars for high profile image manipulation, Parton had the city girl look down pat (alas, without ever denying her Appalachian roots). However, this master songwriter has simply given us an album about as close to purity as one can get.

The incredibly bright Parton is far from simple, however, so the "simple" in this album's title solely refers to its musical arrangements. And nobody will confuse these songs with pop or rock music, which happens far too often when considering current mainstream country radio staples. Although these songs are not overly twangy, nor are they bluegrass-y, they are consistently built upon relatively uncomplicated arrangements. For example, "Kiss It (And Make It All Better)," a song that reminds us that the kisses children receive for cuts and bruises are just as necessary for full grown adults, mixes acoustic and electric sonic elements to create soft 'n' sweet message. "Can't Be That Wrong," which concerns itself with cheating lovers, is even gentler. Within its lyric, Parton quotes the old '70s song, "Torn Between Two Lovers."

And Parton, an outspokenly spiritual woman, wonders with its words if God can still love her -- even though she cheats on her mate. This character can no longer sing hymns like "Rock of Ages" or "Amazing Grace" in good conscience because of her guilt. She even boldly proclaims, "To hell with heaven if it means I'll lose you," proving Parton can still write lines that stop you in your tracks.

Parton also gives us one great sad country song with "Tomorrow is Forever." Although the title may read like a positive statement, but Parton sings on the chorus, "Yesterday is gone/But tomorrow is forever." After a breakup, this character must live with regrets, while dreading the days ahead. The song features complimentary steel guitar and softly strummed mandolin to help make its honky tonk-infused point.

"Head Over Heels" shows off Parton's strong sassy side. When Parton falls in love, you best believe she does so dressed to kill! The recording, with its pinpointed slide guitar, reminds us that this woman will always be sexy.

Much like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash before her, "Pure & Simple" suggests Dolly Parton will stay true to her art all the way till the end. She won't be recycling old hits on the county fair circuit because she's just too busy creating and recording new songs - bless her heart!