Dolly Parton

Coat of Many Colors (RCA Nashville/Legacy)

Dolly Parton

My Tennessee Mountain Home (RCA Nashville/Legacy)

Dolly Parton

Jolene (RCA Nashville/Legacy)

1971's Coat of Many Colors gave Dolly Parton the hit she'd been looking for since leaving her longtime duet partner, Porter Wagoner. The autobiographical title track exuded a tender folksiness with its unabashed sentimentality, Parton finding her songwriting voice here in tunes like "My Blue Tears" and the sly "Traveling Man." Together, the trio of compositions form the heart of her first cohesive effort. Four bonus tracks bolster the album's short play time but don't enhance its impact. 1973's My Tennessee Mountain Home was entirely written by Parton and remains an impressive if uneven release. The songs are even folksier than Coat ("Old Black Kettle," "Back Home"), but it's the title song that stands the litmus test of unforgiving time. Her themes reflect innocence as pure as Smoky Mountain air, in part because Parton's homespun savvy told her to write what she knew: mama, daddy, family, farming, Tennessee, and the Lord. The country star was well on her way to crossover fame by the time she released Jolene in 1974. The album also contained "I Will Always Love You," the signature tune that was a hit for her twice and Whitney Houston once. Jolene is the best of these three reissues by Sony Legacy from Parton's RCA years, with four unreleased bonus tracks. What makes the trifecta worth hearing today isn't only the singer's incipient superstardom but her determination to do things her way. Country music's Seventies outlaw rebellion wasn't rejecting tradition as much as rejecting Nashville's country-politan sound, with Parton advising women to stand by their men out of respect for commitment. She never tried to be hip, but under the cake-frosting hair and gobs of make-up, Dolly Parton's as real as they come.

(Coat of Many Colors) ***

(My Tennessee Mountain Home) **

(Jolene) ***.5

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