If the listener senses déjà vu, it's only the idea they've heard before. Parton tried an album of covers called The Great Pretender in 1983 or so; those pop arrangements of "Downtown" and "Save the Last Dance for Me" did very well on the country charts, but flopped on the pop charts. For this go-round, Parton has compiled mostly country chestnuts. Parton's voice is sweet, often sinewy. These arrangements are clean and for the most part faithful to the original arrangements. None other than die-hard Parton fans will find real excitement in Charlie Rich's "Behind Closed Doors," Merle Haggard's "Today I Started Loving You Again," Freddy Fender's "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" (although there's a nice Spanish sequence with David Hidalgo sharing vocals), and Ray Price's "For the Good Times."
Otherwise, Parton does a swell job of jazzing up one of Mac Davis' least-memorable hits, "Something's Burning." She gives it an anxious, almost rock flavor which brings the song to life. With viola accompaniment and harmony vocals from Alison Krauss, Parton's take on Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" foretells the Rapture in beautiful poetry. A true surprise, Parton transformed Katrina & the Waves' new wave hit "Walking on Sunshine" into a country swing tune, complete with fiddle solo. Two of the least-familiar songs are also two of the best. "Don't Let Me Cross Over," a woman's angst over the temptation to steal another woman's man, and "Satin Sheets," about a woman who's grown tired of her wealthy husband's lack of affection, are delicious, pure country ballads. Perhaps the album's centerpiece is Cat Stevens' joyous "Peace Train." Backed by South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Parton never sounded more exhilarated than when she and the ensemble sang the "ooh-wah-ee-ah-ooh-ah" line. As always, there was fine frilly cover art on Parton, which might find Mambazo singing "ooh-la-la."