I grew up watching Dolly Parton. Sitting cross-legged on the orange shag carpet, I'd ignore the inevitable comments my male relatives would make whenever Dolly was on TV. I would study her architectural marvel of a hairdo, the millions of rhinestones running down one perfect polyester pant leg and the way she could make her voice warble just like a red-wing blackbird. I also wondered what she was doing with a seeming dork like Porter Waggoner. Dolly must have been wondering that exact same thing herself, as it wasn't long before she'd kicked him to the curb like an empty bottle of Wild Turkey.
Since that long-ago 1970s day, Dolly's been very much her own woman, putting out more than 30 albums, hosting several variety shows, starring in movies like Nine to Five and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. She's even opened her own theme park. And all these years later, I still find Dolly completely fascinating. Back when the feminist movement was in full swing, she knew how to work her femininity - not just her famous physique, but also by mining all the trappings of Southern womanhood. She wasn't afraid to play the country-western sweetheart, to sing sentimental songs about her "coat of many colors" or to plead heartbreakingly to some jezebel Jolene, "please don't take my man."
No little girl who grew up in the South with big dreams of becoming a country star someday has escaped the example of the tiny, buxom woman with the great big voice and the great big hair. Which is why Just Because I Am a Woman (Sugar Hill Records), a tribute to Dolly Parton, is so damn much fun. There is a lot of love and reverence here, from Alison Krauss's sleepy-headed "Nine to Five" to newcomer Mindy Smith's plaintive and subdued rendition of "Jolene." One thing I especially appreciated is that all the artists -- including Norah Jones, Melissa Etheridge, Joan Osborne, Emmylou Harris and even grandstander Shania Twain -- stay true to the spirit of the original. The only exception is Me'Shell N'Degeocello, whose hypnotic "Two Doors Down" captures a sorrowful wistfulness the original only hints at. It's all a kick in the pants, especially when it culminates with Dolly herself, singing the over-the-top anthem "Just Because I Am a Woman."
Publication date: 10/09/03