Dolly Parton

The Fairest of Them All/My Favorite Songwriter, Porter Wagoner

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This 2010 release from Omni pairs Dolly Parton’s 1970 release The Fairest of Them All with 1972’s My Favorite Songwriter, Porter Wagoner on one disc, adding the unreleased ’70 outtake “Everything is Beautiful (In Its Own Way)” and the ’72 b-side “Just As Good as Gone” for good measure. These two LPs were neither recorded or released back-to-back but they make sense as a pairing for the former is filled primarily with original Parton compositions and the latter is devoted to tunes from her duet partner and mentor Porter Wagoner. The Fairest of Them All lacks any of Dolly Parton’s early masterpieces -- and it even lacks a major hit single, with the opening “Daddy Come and Get Me” getting no further than 40 on the charts -- but song-for-song it’s one of her strongest early LPs, a testament to her knack for creating finely-honed character sketches and vignettes. Perhaps the best known of these is “Down from Dover,” which Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood would soon cut and Dolly later revived; it’s a haunting, exquisitely told tale of a pregnant teenager and is at once the peak and the anomaly of the album, crystallizing Dolly’s eye for detail but departing somewhat from the spirited country and bluegrass of the rest of the record. As such, it’s the most obvious example of the depth of Dolly’s work here but the rest of The Fairest of Them All carries a similar lasting power, her stories of heartbroken survivors drawn with precision and delivered with bustling, soulful arrangements that can sometimes camouflage the pain. In comparison, the songs on My Favorite Songwriter are cut from the same cloth -- they’re story songs that verge on the melodramatic -- but Wagoner favors lurid exaggeration over spare, finely-honed details. Consequently, this LP touches upon country corn, coming in the form of the overheated moody recitation “Bird That Never Flew” and the stomping “Washday Blues,” both totems of Nashville’s early ‘70s panache. Of course, this country kitsch has its appeal as an artifact, particularly when it’s paired with a bunch of strong straight ahead country as it is here -- it’s just that, when compared with The Fairest of Them All, My Favorite Songwriter winds up inadvertently revealing who the better songwriter of these two was.

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