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Parton sees topical album as ‘sign of the times’

October 17, 2005

By Michael Paoletta

NEW YORK (Billboard) – On the eve of her 60th birthday,
Dolly Parton has the verve, sass and energy of someone 35 years
her junior. She is crisscrossing the country on her Vintage
tour — a trek that surrounds the October 11 release of her new
album, the self-produced “Those Were the Days.”

And in her scarce downtime, she is penning the score to the
Broadway-bound musical “9 to 5,” which is based on the 1980 hit
film that starred Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

For the aptly named Vintage tour, the legendary artist
performs a mix of Parton classics and songs from the new Sugar
Hill Records album, which is a collection of covers from the
1960s and 1970s. But these are not just any old songs.

For the most part, they are folk-pop nuggets of a political
bent. Originally created during a time of strife and unease,
era-defining songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Imagine” and
“Where Have All the Flowers Gone” take on contemporary
resonance in 2005.

The songs are in stark contrast to the
rally-round-the-troops sentiment that permeated Parton’s 2003
set, “For God and Country.” In this way, the songs on “Those
Were the Days” question rather than uphold.

“For me, these songs are not really political, but more a
sign of the times,” Parton says. “I see them as songs of hope,
songs with strong messages, songs that take on a new relevance
today.”

For Parton, these songs could have been written yesterday.
“With everything going on in the world today, these lyrics are
right on the money,” she says. With a sense of glee, she adds,
“And now, I’m the messenger of these songs.”

ALL-STAR LINEUP

But she is not alone on the collection. She is joined by
veteran artists who originally made some of the songs famous
(Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Yusuf Islam — aka Cat Stevens —
Tommy James and others), as well as by contemporary voices,
among them Norah Jones, Alison Krauss, Keith Urban and Nickel
Creek.

James, who sings with Parton on “Crimson and Clover,” a
song that he and the Shondells took to the summit of the
Billboard Hot 100 in 1968, believes people will rally around
this release. “She’ll bring her whole audience — the young and
the old — to this recording,” he says.

Sugar Hill, which is part of the Welk Music Group family,
is sending John Lennon’s “Imagine” to country, bluegrass and
adult contemporary radio stations. The track has been available
at Apple Computer’s iTunes Music Store since late September. A
video is being lensed this month in New York.

Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, who does not appear on Parton’s
album, finds the timing incredibly right for this cover of
“Imagine.” Not only has the song remained relevant, but “the
scope of the lyrics (is) increasing,” Ono says. “This shows the
timelessness of John’s prophetic, visionary songwriting.”

In early October, Borders began selling a “Those Were the
Days” sampler for 49 cents that includes “If I Were a
Carpenter” in its entirety and snippets of three other album
tracks. The sampler comes with a $5 coupon toward the purchase
of the album.

Borders country/bluegrass music buyer C.J. Snow says the
chain will be promoting the album heavily this fall. It will be
prominently featured in in-store newsletters, on the Borders
Web site and in national print ads. “This is the biggest
bluegrass title of the year,” he adds.

Perhaps, but for Parton, it was simply a matter of
recording songs that she always held near and dear to her
heart. “These are songs that need to be heard again and again,”
she says. “For me, their messages and the timing were just
right.”

Reuters/Billboard




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