Nearly 50 studio albums into her career, Dolly Parton manages to find a novel hook for Run, Rose, Run, her first record since 2017's I Believe in You. In this case, her hook is literally a novel -- one she co-wrote with James Patterson, the author best-known for such thrillers as Kiss the Girls, Along Came a Spider, and Alex Cross. Together, Parton and Patterson wrote Run, Rose, Run, a thriller about an aspiring singer/songwriter on the run, then Dolly set out to craft an accompanying album. Thankfully, the Run, Rose, Run album doesn't require even passing knowledge of its printed cousin, working quite well as a standalone album in its own right. It helps that Parton uses her fictional framework as an excuse to revisit many of the styles and sounds that lie at the core of her legacy: bittersweet ballads, galloping bluegrass, anthems of empowerment and defiance, barroom duets, and cosmopolitan pop, including the show-stopping closer "Love or Lust," a song that would be ideal for closing sets in Vegas. Save for a production that gleams too bright and a voice that's growing slightly thinner with age, it'd be easy for the 12 tunes on Run, Rose, Run to comfortably slide alongside hits from her popular peak in the 1970s and the '80s; they're sturdily and carefully crafted crowd-pleasers, hitting their marks expertly and with flair. The best moments arrive when Parton explicitly nods to her past or plays with her image: Ben Haggard ably steps in for his late dad Merle on "Demons," while "Driven" portrays a fiercely motivated singer/songwriter who can't help but seem like a variation of Parton herself. Perhaps cloaking her personal experiences in the guise of a fictional narrative allowed Parton to allude to her past in this fashion, but no matter the inspiration, these moments are the grace notes that help make Run, Rose, Run a satisfying listen on its own terms.
Run, Rose, Run Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine