In the big three professional sports, an athlete has a finite shelf-life. They’re prime is even shorter than that. Once they hit a certain age, there’s nothing more they can do and they have to hang up their jersey forever. In music though, an artist can make music from the time they’re a kid to their last dying breath. Not only can they play forever, but an artist’s prime is not set in stone. It can go for decades. That is certainly the case for country music legend Dolly Parton. At the ripe age of 70, Dolly shows no signs of slowing down making music and touring. Her voice is still as intact and great as her early days. Her age doesn’t show one bit and it’s why she’s such an inspiration to countless artists and the fans who listen to her music. Dolly Parton is an artist all music fans should listen to and hold in the highest of regards. And anytime she releases new music, it should be a cause for celebration. Today Parton released her brand new album Pure & Simple. Once again Dolly delivers an album full of great music that any music fan can appreciate.
The mandolin-driven and upbeat “Pure and Simple” starts the album. The album’s title track is a heartfelt love song that’s impossible to hate. One of the things this song demonstrates is how great Dolly is at these softer songs, pulling off the perfect balance between connecting with the listener and having such a genuine, sincere feeling. Dolly does it again on the next song, “Say Forever You’ll Be Mine.” The instrumentation is really great here, particularly the ringing fiddles that give the song the hook that draws you in and makes you want to hear more. “Never Not Love You” is a song that will connect really well with pretty much anyone, from a loving parent to a loving spouse. It’s a vow to never stop loving someone and always being there for them.
Dolly really captures the loving feeling of a meaningful relationship on “Kiss It (And Make It All Better).” The song starts out by looking at the relationship of a child and parent and how the latter is always there for them to care for their safety and wellbeing. The song then moves onto a romantic relationship and the trust and safety two partners express for the other when they’re distressed. Dolly’s vocals always shine, but this song they’re especially top-notch. One of my favorites on Pure & Simple is “Can’t Be That Wrong.” Dolly sings about the feelings of guilt and doubts a person experiences after they cheat on their partner. She goes onto sing about how they can feel torn between two lovers and trying to decide between asking forgiveness and just saying to hell with it and staying with the person you’re cheating with. Unlike a lot of modern country cheating songs, this has nuance and shows that cheating isn’t such a black and white thing. There’s a lot of gray and in the end at least one person or possibly everyone involved is going to get hurt. Needless to say it’s a pretty fantastic song.
“Outside Your Door” swings in the other direction and is a more light-hearted song on love. The song is about a woman who can’t stop thinking about her love and the feelings she has when she’s with him. Again Dolly really shows up modern country artists’ take on love songs, as she makes love and sex sound like a fun affair. This is unlike a lot of modern country songs that sound too serious and make romance out to be cut and dry. Dolly’s positive vibes shine through again on “Tomorrow Is Forever.” She sings of how yesterday is gone, so you should look forward tomorrow because it’s forever and in the now. Yesterday is done and can’t be change, but tomorrow isn’t and can. While these themes read as simple on paper, they’re really honest and something anyone can relate to. In a nutshell, this is what country music is all about.
Probably the most fun song on this album is “I’m Sixteen.” Dolly sings about how you can feel like your 16-years-old forever if you choose to and don’t have to get old. It plays on the axiom of age is only a number and not how you have to feel. At 70-years-old Dolly sounds just as youthful and exuberant as ever. There are artists half her age that don’t sound as charismatic and great as she does still. “Head Over High Heels” is another love song that Parton just knocks clear out of the park. This is another one of my favorites on the album, as Dolly continues to demonstrate through both her lyrics and vocals how to perform a romantic song. I don’t mean to dog on modern artists so much, but they could really learn something from songs like this. With over 40 studio albums under her belt, Parton seemingly knocks these fantastic songs out in her sleep. The final song on Pure & Simple is “Forever Love,” which Dolly dedicates to her husband of now 50 years, Carl. I’m not even going to try to describe to you how wonderful of a performance Dolly delivers here and I’m just going to tell you to go listen to this song. It’s phenomenal and reminds you of why Dolly Parton is one of the all-time best artists not just in country, but in all of music.
Simply put Pure & Simple is a really great album that I can’t recommend enough. From the very listen of this album I was immediately hooked and couldn’t stop listening. This was a review that pretty much wrote itself. Dolly Parton proves she’s still as amazing as ever and is still producing high-quality music. She wrote, arranged and produced this entire album (co-producers are Richard Dennison & Tom Rutledge). That’s incredible. While radio and the greater mainstream at-large mostly write-off older artists, they’re missing out. Parton is just one of many older artists who have delivered this year, including fellow country icon Loretta Lynn. There’s not much else to say. It’s Dolly Parton and its great music. It doesn’t get anymore pure and simple than this.