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Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Dolly Parton - "Jolene" (1973)

Under three minutes and still the gold standard.

The song is from one woman to another. The man in the tale is secondary, sure he's the subject of the battle but Parton discuses Jolene far more than she does her man. The song has been covered by The White Stripes, The Sisters of MercyOlivia Newton John, and Strawberry Switchblade among others. Each brings something different to the table, and the fact that each interpretation is different is testament to the depth of the theme of the song. However, none of the covers comes close to the emotional depth of the original. Mindy Smith does a great bluegrass influenced cover that I think has the best instrumentation after the original.

Parton's voice is, as I said, full of emotion. Her words are deliberate and heartfelt. Her backing vocalists here come in just occasionally, really adding depth. The music going on under the lyrics is pretty complex and layered. There's a steel guitar, and two electric/acoustic guitars all playing interwoven. The bass guitar plays faster and more complex than a 'typical' country song. At least two violins are playing as well. In addition to the standard drum set, you can also hear some kind of frame drum, whether it's a bodhrán or some other tradition's version. I suppose it could be congas as well. All together, it's a haunting piece that deserves a few minutes of your time.

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