Dolly Parton

All I Can Do

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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming

Released in 1976, All I Can Do was Dolly Parton's last album produced by longtime mentor and frequent duet partner Porter Wagoner, though this time out Parton co-produced, and one can sense Dolly was straining slightly at the bit on these sessions. While the clear mountain purity of Parton's vocals was as beautiful as ever, the backing musicians generated the rhythmic insistence of a rock & roll band on cuts like "Shattered Image" and "The Fire That Keeps You Warm," and this was one of Dolly's first clear gestures toward a crossover career. However, despite the country-rock accents on All I Can Do, Parton's songwriting had changed little, and "When the Sun Goes Down Tonight," "I'm a Drifter," and "All I Can Do" are all tales of life in the South that resonate with emotional honesty and a nostalgia whose sweetness finds room for bitter truths. Similarly, "Preacher Tom" is a song of faith that's as country as cornbread, and just as satisfying. Parton's covers of Emmylou Harris' "Boulder to Birmingham" and Merle Haggard's "Life's Like Poetry" are inspired, and the production is simple and straightforward, and suits Parton's vocals perfectly. A few years on, Parton's career and public persona would go through a lot of changes, but All I Can Do serves as a reminder that her commitment to country music was always real, and that she was a first-class talent before she became a multimedia star.

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