Dolly Parton's best music is genuinely timeless, spinning tales of love, home, and faith that seem at once as old as the hills and as fresh as yesterday's heartbreak. However, one spin of Real Love lands this album firmly in 1985, when it was recorded. In an apparent effort to keep up with the times, producer David Malloy built most of this album's arrangements around synthesizers and drum machines, and two decades later the results sound almost painfully dated, far more so than Parton's work of the early '70s; this is middle-of-the-road schlock that grates on the nerves. Real Love also shortchanges Parton the songwriter, who only penned four of the album's ten tracks, though "We Got Too Much," "I Can't Be True," and "I Hope You're Never Happy" display a welcome spunk most of these songs lack. Dolly herself is in fine voice here, and while she sometimes has to struggle to make herself heard through Malloy's mix, her performances are game and she offers more enthusiasm than most of the material deserves (though her debut with Kenny Rogers on the title track fails to connect). Listen to Dolly Parton's fine self-produced 1977 album New Harvest...First Gathering back to back with Real Love and the question becomes obvious: why did RCA hire David Malloy when Dolly could do a much better job by herself?
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming
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