Dolly Parton

Burlap & Satin

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While many of Dolly Parton's albums between 1977 and 1982 (when she made the conscious decision to reach for mainstream stardom) may have sounded as if she had willingly turned her back on her musical strengths in favor of achieving chart success, Parton always seemed fully present on them and sang like the top-shelf talent that she was. However, 1983's Burlap & Satin was a turn into something more like hackwork. Parton wrote six songs on Burlap & Satin, including three originally penned for the soundtrack of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and "A Gamble Either Way" and "Appalachian Memories" are touching, personal tunes that recall her best work. But "A Cowboy's Ways" is too maudlin for its own good, and while "Calm on the Water" is clearly sincere, it's not one of Parton's better spiritual efforts. This album's real failing, however, is Gregg Perry's production, which is slick and empty-sounding, and unlike many of her earlier albums, Dolly seems to lack the enthusiasm to sing her way through the mediocre backing tracks, which spoils the best numbers and sinks the lesser stuff (which surprisingly includes a duet with Willie Nelson on "I Really Don't Want to Know"). Dolly Parton has made worse albums than Burlap & Satin, but few sound as lifeless, which -- given the boundless heart and soul of her best music -- is a deeply troubling flaw.

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