By the early '90s, Dolly Parton's credibility as an authentic country singer was severely waning, thanks to an overabundance of pop crossover singles, flash-in-the-pan comedies, and an incredibly tacky variety show. Parton must have been aware of her crumbling country legacy in 1994, when she rushed out the live album Heartsongs: Live From Home, a smorgasbord of her country hits, the stories behind them, some new songs, and a rather large amount of classic old-timey standards. For the first time in over a decade, Parton managed to keep the production relatively sparse, and while there are no true classic tracks here, there are a surprisingly large amount of great moments. For example, the performance of "Applejack" is incredibly lively, and her newer rendition of "Smokey Mountain Memories" may be the best version of the song available. However, the cover songs are what Dolly truly excels at on Heartsongs. "Night Train to Memphis" is sharp and energetic, while "Wayfaring Stranger" showcases Parton at her earthy gospel best. This is not to say the album doesn't have its weaknesses; it does. The title track, for instance, is rather bloodless; "Brave Little Soldier" is far too self-righteous to be anything but schlocky, and "Coat of Many Colors" loses much of the original's sincerity amidst its melodramatic performance. All this notwithstanding, it's quite a treat to hear Parton return to her roots here. While certainly not a definitive album, Heartsongs was easily Dolly's most comfortable and honest recording in a very long time, paving the way for her great country records of the late '90s and early '00s.
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AllMusic Review by Barry Weber