There's also plenty of cheese on offer
We need Dolly Parton now more than ever. The easiest response to the flood of bad news washing over us every day is hopelessness, but surrender is not in Parton’s vocabulary. (This is the woman who wrote Coat Of Many Colors, after all.) At a time when darkness and anxiety permeate our pop music landscape – think Drake, Rihanna and even Justin Bieber’s semi-heavy turn on Purpose – Parton’s 43rd album is an injection of sunshine.
Right from the opening shuffle of the title track, she sets the cheery tone that runs through almost the whole album. Pure & Simple is also the best example of Parton’s reining in the sunshine a tad – it’s more restrained in its lyrics. But her relentless optimism turns almost unbearably saccharine on Kiss It (And Make It All Better) and Never Not Love You. Occasionally, it goes so far that it works – the bouncy, catchy, nostalgic I’m Sixteen is all about her “young at heart” outlook.
While the best moments prove the country queen is still at the top of her game, missteps like spoken word breaks add unneeded cheese, and Pure & Simple isn’t all that thematically diverse (three songs have “forever” in their song titles – though Forever Love, is a stunning, string-swept closer).
The album’s outlier, so wildly off-tone it’s shocking, is its best song. Can’t Be That Wrong eschews Parton’s upbeatness for doubt as she questions God in the context of infidelity. It’s nuanced and heartbreaking, and though we might need some sunshine right now, her confrontation with her own darkness reassures us that it’s all right to feel lost sometimes.
Top track: Can’t Be That Wrong
Dolly Parton plays the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre on September 9. See listing.