Dolly Parton’s celebrity is highly accessible, built partly on her awareness of her excessive fashion choices; but having long ago admitted to every nip, tuck, suck, and plump available, even Parton seems bored with insisting she’s more than “too much make-up, too much hair” on her self-released album Backwoods Barbie. And the conversational singing she usually uses to her advantage becomes mawkish on “Made of Stone” after she chokes on the words a few too many times.
But Backwoods Barbie is a satisfyingly big-sounding album, full of slick production and piled-high arrangements, even if pushing Parton’s pop tendencies sometimes feels like overkill. The covers of Smoky Robinson’s “The Tracks of My Tears” and Fine Young Cannibals’ “Drives Me Crazy” are, respectively, forgettable and regrettable. (Though the latter eventually moves from karaoke night to hootenanny with some success, Parton’s performance on the first verse is inexcusable without Alvin, Simon, and Theodore on backing vocals.)
For an album by a gal who managed to sing about heartbreak in wildly celebratory tones on “Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That,” Backwoods Barbie is noticeably lacking in fun. But the Parton-penned tracks on the last half of the album—from the classy, swinging “The Lonesomes” to the affecting “Cologne” and “I Will Forever Hate Roses”—find her sounding more convincing, more like herself. And that’s all we wanted.