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The Real Dolly

Infidelity, cruelty, deathless songs: Meet Parton's early albums

***1/2

DOLLY PARTON
Coat of Many Colors
1971, RCA/Legacy

***

DOLLY PARTON
My Tennessee Mountain Home
1973, RCA/Legacy

***

DOLLY PARTON
Jolene
1974, RCA/Legacy

What you look for in a vintage country album are songs that the best-ofs missed amid filler no one misses. Although Dolly Parton is one of the genre's ranking geniuses, she's been misused by her label's catalog marketers -- in a world of Sublime and Toto box sets, where's hers? So these renowned early titles are welcome. But as vintage country albums, they remain hits-plus-filler.

The inspiriting title track of Coat of Many Colors has been collected ad infinitum. But because the recyclers prefer to traffic in Parton's cross-over maturity, "Traveling Man," a minor 1973 hit in which Dolly's mom runs off with Dolly's beau, has become almost as rare as "If I Lose My Mind," in which Dolly's husband forces her into a swing scene. Having these songs back is enough to get you through a second side whose filler is tastier than most.

Somewhat less delectable is My Tennessee Mountain Home, which in 1973 worked a concept that began with one of Dolly's first letters home and ended with her struggling "Down on Music Row." Nevertheless, a bonus track called "Sacred Memories" makes a perfect coda. And that minor miracle of reissuedom is trumped on Jolene, where the oft-collected "Jolene"/"I Will Always Love You" parlay is all you need from the original album -- but where three of the four bonus tracks, all previously unreleased, are worth hearing.

No box set, and they never put out "Barbara on Your Mind" or "Last Night's Lovin'." What were they thinking? Were they thinking at all?

Rolling Stone, June 14, 2007