Just Because I'm A Woman - Songs Of Dolly Parton

Various Artists

Sugar Hill Records, 2003

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/26/2004

Her Texas-sized hair. The jumpsuits that accentuated her… well, you know. Dollywood.

It's easy to overlook Dolly Parton's songwriting talents when her extravagant productions (both stage and personal) are so prevalent. She initially started with bluegrass and, despite a couple of glitzy turns toward showbiz-style country and rock and roll, Dolly Parton has remained faithful to her bluegrass roots. Her most recent albums have revisited her bluegrass roots and have won her new fans (no thanks to the alt-country explosion and the success of O Brother, Where Art Thou?).

With newfound credibility, the tribute album was inevitable. Even though tribute albums are usually horrendous vanity projects, there are some golden nuggets worth salvaging. Just Because I'm a Woman is one of those nuggets. Virtually every artist is 'A' list talent: Norah Jones, Me'Shell N'Degeocello, Allison Krauss, Sinead O'Connor and Joan Osborne to name a few. Each of these artists add a bit of grit to Parton's songs, making them all the more authentic to the listener.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Shelby Lynne is arguably the most 'Dolly' of the bunch: she came on the music scene with her barbed-wire confessional I Am Shelby Lynne. However, like Dolly Parton, she got caught up with studio gloss and her Jewel-like makeover into a sexpot with her follow-up recording (call it Lynne's studio version of the movie Rhinestone). But Lynne has redeemed herself by going back to bluegrass -- and she continues that redemption with "The Seeker."

Most of the tracks are fairly loyal versions of Parton's songs. Emmylou Harris adds a rugged beauty in "To Daddy." Alison Krauss does a great job stripping down "9 to 5," one of Dolly Parton's 'rocking' numbers during her early-80s stardom, to its hurt core. Parton's uptempo, almost joyous delivery, overshadows the dreary lyrics of working as a wage slave. Krauss slows the tempo down, making the song more suitable for a barroom than an aerobic station.

Some of the more unconventional recordings are the biggest payoff to the listener. Sinead O'Connor's beautiful voice resonates in "Dagger Through The Heart," arguably the best cover on an album full of solid covers. O'Connor has flirted with rock, rap and electronica, but on this song, she is backed chiefly by steel guitar and fiddle. Me' Shell N'Degeocello supplies some much-needed funk to the album with her half-singing, half-spoken delivery of "Two Doors Down."

If you were to find a fault in Just Because I'm a Woman, it would be its relative lack of risk-taking. Most of the songs are fairly loyal to their original source material. Still, most listeners will likely prefer loyal, passionate versions of some of Parton's best works and not some half-assed attempt at incorporating elements of dance or electronica into this album.

Parton gets the last word in with the hidden track "Just Because I'm a Woman." It's only fitting. Without Dolly Parton's influence, it is likely that 1/3 of the artists on this compilation would not have made it in the music world. It's almost unfair to call Just Because I'm a Woman a tribute album. It's coherent, well-produced and ultimately, it makes you want to hit the 'repeat' key - as much of a compliment to the musicians as the source material.

Rating: A-

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© 2004 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sugar Hill Records, and is used for informational purposes only.